You can’t avoid it. You know you need to go out into the garden to make some progress, especially after getting inspiration from this blog. But everytime you step out the door, you start sneezing, coughing, your nose runs and you feel awful. How can you avoid allergy attacks so that you can still enjoy your garden?
Seasonal allergies such as hay fever are difficult to deal with. You struggle to find comfort and the advice you often get is to stay indoors as much as you can.
But you know you need to get out into the garden to take care of some tasks and also to just enjoy it. Unfortunately though all that pollen from the blooming trees and flowers is also there, mocking you with it’s promise of agony.
What can you do to still be able to go outside without the discomfort of all of the symptoms of a hay fever attack? As my wife suffers from hay fever, here are some of the protective measures she takes to be able to help me in the garden and avoid allergy attacks.
One of the best ways to deal with airborne pollen is to protect yourself from exposure before you head out. Here are 5 important items that you need for full protection:
There are special glasses now that are designed to protect your eyes from exposure to pollen. My wife bought a pair in Japan. They are designed like safety glasses worn by construction workers in that the sides wrap around and the top and bottom cover the gap between the lenses and the face.
If you don’t want to spend the money for special glasses, a regular pair of glasses will also help but even better would be a pair of safety glasses or googles.
Your nose and mouth are the main entrances for pollen. Using a proper face mask will block most of the pollen from entering your nose and mouth.
Remember to use them only once and throw them away when you are done for the day. It may not look stylish and you may get odd looks from your neighbours but your well-being is more important.
If you are not willing to wear a facemask you can also wear a scarf over your nose and mouth. Just remember to wash it regularly.
While your head and hair doesn’t directly allow pollen into your body, any pollen on your body can easily reach your nose and mouth when you move or touch your head and then touch your face.
Having to wash your hair every time you come in from outside becomes annoying. Wearing a hat allows you to take off the hat before you go inside and keep most of the pollen that has fallen on it from entering your house.
Ideally you want a hat with a large brim as that will help keep pollen off your face as well. And a hat that is easy to wash.
Wearing gloves will help keep your hands clean. It is important though as well to wash your hands frequently as they could still pick up pollen.
And avoid touching your face with your hands until you have washed them, especially your eyes.
Separate gardening clothes
Definitely get yourself some dedicated gardening clothes. If you go out in the clothes you normally wear in the house and come back indoors without changing, you will bring a lot of pollen on your clothes. That pollen will end up indoors on surfaces such as your couch, chairs, etc.
Instead don your gardening clothes before you head out and take them off (ideally outside in a hidden area) and wash them before reuse.
Pick clothes that are less likely to hold onto pollen. Avoid the bulky wool sweaters or flannel or if you have to wear them to stay warm, cover with a wind-proof or rain-proof jacket.
And you may also want to have a shower when you come in to ensure that you don’t have any lingering pollen on your skin and hair where it was not covered up.
Weather can play an important role in increasing or decreasing pollen exposure and avoid allergy attacks. Now while you can’t control the weather, you can control when you go out. You will want to monitor the following weather conditions to find the optimal time to go out.
Needless to say a windy day is a recipe for disaster for an allergy sufferer like yourself. The wind will blow pollen literally at your face, taunting you as if to say “Here you go, an extra dose of pollen to start you sneezing uncontrollably!”
Have a feel for what time of day you normally get gentle breezes or wind. Here on the west coast of Canada, typically we have calm mornings and windier afternoons, so it pays to get up early in the morning to garden to avoid the pollen. And you have the bonus of the morning dew helping to encapsulate the pollen so it doesn’t float around.
Usually it is easy to tell if it is breezy or windy – just look at trees in your area. You can also get an anemometer which measures wind speed.
A sunny day with the sun shining may be a great day to do gardening if you don’t suffer from allergies. If you do it is probably the worst day to garden.
Dry weather stirs up pollen and if you are sweating it will stick to your skin more easily.
Therefore you may want to pick the cloudy days instead or as mentioned above, get up early and head into the garden before the sun gets too hot.
This is probably the optimal weather to go out into your garden as pollen will not be airborne or if it is, it will be diluted by the rain.
Wear appropriate rain gear and keep yourself warm with a thermos of coffee or tea. The additional benefit of gardening in the rain is that anything you plant (seeds or transplants) will get a better start with the extra moisture.
Pollen and Allergy Forecasts
Most regions have pollen or allergy forecasts and reports. These are usually detailed charts listing the various pollen producers such as grasses, cedar, oak, and fruit (such as apple and plum).
These are generated based on what is blooming in your area and what the weather is forecasted to be.
You can use these forecasts and reports to avoid allergy attacks by not going out during those times, but keep in mind that these are general for your area. You may have an especially vigorous blooming area in your neighbourhood, which could elevate the pollen severity. These forecasts are like weather forecasts: they are only guidelines.
Get these forecasts through some of the popular online weather forecasting websites such as The Weather Network, Accuweather, etc. Even your local news channel will likely have allergy and pollen forecasts.
Plant the right plants
The ideal garden for an allergy sufferer would not have any plants, grasses or trees. It would therefore not be a garden anymore. So finding the right balance where you have the majority of your plants producing the least amount of pollen is difficult.
Rather than repeat the lists that are readily available on-line, I’ll link to one that is comprehensive: Low-Allergy Plants for the Garden
And even if that prized flower or plant that you absolutely have to have in your garden produces a lot of pollen, consider it’s location carefully and plant it away from any seating areas or places you walk by regularly.
Note: This section does not constitute professional medical advice. Always consult with the appropriate medical professionals before taking any allergy relief medication, supplements or treatments.
Finally treating the actual problem of having allergies is the best long-term solution. It will not only improve your enjoyment of your garden, but also other areas of your life.
The first step you should undertake is to get tested for allergens. This will ensure you know what you are allergic to in terms of plants and their pollens. This will help you avoid certain days or times when the pollen forecast (see above) for that allergen is high.
It should also give you a better idea of what treatments may help to alleviate your symptoms for that particular allergen. Here are some suggestions:
Basically you are given a shot regularly which is supposed to build up your immune system. It won’t cure you, but will make your body able to fight the allergens more effectively.
It requires regular doctor visits and may not be covered under some health insurance policies. And not everyone responds the same.
There is controversy surrounding whether or not homeopathy is effective and safe. If you are willing though to try these remedies, there are quite a few available for seasonal allergies. Unlike traditional medicine, these remedies work better if you take them regularly.
Most are tablets or pellets but there are also some sprays available.
This is sometimes also seen as a controversial approach when looked at from a Western medicine perspective. However naturopathy works by promoting the natural healing of the body, not just treating symptoms. So with the right combination of treatments you may end up becoming allergy free.
Acupuncture, supplements, diet and other treatments are usually prescribed by a naturopathic doctor after an extensive consultation session.
This can be quite expensive if you are not covered under health insurance, so you will need to weigh the benefits against the costs.
Certain foods may actually worsen allergy symptoms and others may help alleviate symptoms and in some cases eliminate them completely. Here is a list: 10 allergy fighting foods to help you beat hay fever
One of the food items not on the list linked above is honey. Locally produced honey (not honey produced by bees far away) may reduce symptoms. Of course only add honey to your diet if you can tolerate it – NEVER give it to children less than a year old – and ensure it replaces another sweetener you normally would use.
If you have tried everything and still feel miserable working in the garden, you may just have to hire someone to help you out. Perhaps have them do the tasks that expose you to the most allergens such as weeding, lawn mowing and general cleanup.
You can ask a neighbour or friend or check your local classifieds. You might be able to even trade some of your produce instead of paying your helper money.
Allergies are certainly no fun. They drain you of energy, make you feel irritable and can stop you from enjoying your life, including your garden and outdoor space.
However with these tips you will at least be able to reduce exposure and the resulting symptoms. After all the end goal of your efforts to transform your outdoor space into a tranquil garden is so that you can go out and enjoy it at any time of year, including allergy season.
Do you have any other tips you can share on how you avoid allergy attacks while in your garden? Share in the comments below so everyone can benefit.