There are many good reasons to have plants in the home or office. Houseplants are hugely beneficial to the in a number of ways, but not all plants are created equal. Some exacerbate allergies, while there are also many that can help alleviate them.

According to indoor plant specialists, Totally Plants, there’s a common misconception amongst those suffering from plant allergies that all plants are bad, when in fact some plants can help allergy sufferers.

“A study carried out by NASA back in 1980 showed that some plants were particularly effective at purifying the air. The research proved that certain indoor plants can absorb toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde, while plant filtered indoor spaces have up to 60% fewer airborne microbes including mould spores and bacteria.”

Harmful toxins like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene come from everyday substances such as detergents, wood products and paints. Some plants improve indoor air quality by filtering these harmful toxins out of the air. Read more about how plants clean the air here.

The upshot is plants can be a good or bad thing in your home, depending on the type. Let’s take a closer look at plant allergies, what the symptoms are and the best and worst indoor plants to have indoors.

What is an allergy?

Allergies are an overreactive response made by our immune system to normally harmless substances. Pollens, certain foods (nuts, gluten, dairy) and dust mites are common culprits.

In allergic individuals, certain substances are identified as a threat.  In these cases, the body releases defensive antibodies, triggering chemical reactions that cause allergic symptoms.

What is plant allergy

There are literally hundreds of plant allergens that are capable of causing an allergic reaction, which occur via inhalation or on contact. Because allergens vary widely in terms of their composition, an exact diagnosis is often difficult to establish.

The picture is often complicated, because there may actually be several allergens at play in a sensitive individual (for example, different plants, foods, mould spores and dust).

Plant allergies are also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever.

Allergic reactions to plants – the symptoms

The most common symptoms when it comes to plant allergies are:

  • Irritated, red, itchy or watery eyes
  • Puffiness or darkness under the eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Tiredness

As well as airborne allergens, direct contact by touching certain plants can lead to skin reactions. Some plants ooze liquid from the leaves, stem or fruit which, when touched, can trigger an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include itching, eczema, contact dermatitis, skin lesions, hives or photodermatosis.

Other allergens to watch out for

It is common to mistake a mould allergy for a plant allergy. Mould can easily grow in the soil of houseplants and it can be this that triggers a reaction rather than the plant itself.

There are lots of things you can do to keep your houseplants mould free. For example, soggy soil is a prime environment for mould so don’t overwater plants. It is also important to ensure indoor plants have sufficient ventilation and are given the appropriate amount of sunlight.

The worst indoor plants for allergy sufferers

Chrysanthemums, weeping figs, orchids and marigold have been known to cause skin reactions. In extreme cases, these reactions can lead to swelling around the eyes and mouth or even anaphylactic shock. If you suffer from plant allergies, then you’ll also want to avoid African violets (their fuzzy leaves are notorious for trapping dust).

While palms are generally considered to be safe for allergy sufferers, male palms do produce serious amounts of pollen so should be avoided. Bonsai trees are often of the juniper and cedar variety and are known for causing allergy symptoms, like their larger outdoor versions.

Ferns tend to thrive in damp soil so should also be avoided.

The best allergy-friendly indoor plants

Certain plants are known to relieve allergies, rather than cause them. Some help by acting as a natural humidifier, while others remove formaldehyde and reduce benzene levels, both of which trigger allergies. The best allergy-friendly plants include:

  • Golden Pothos
  • Philodendron
  • Areca Palm
  • Kentia Palm
  • Lady Palm
  • Bamboo Palm
  • Dracaena
  • Peace lily
  • Marginata
  • Mother-in-laws tongue

 3 top tips for introducing plants and minimising allergic reactions

  1. Add one plant at a time, so that any reaction can be monitored easily or the house plant can be pronounced ‘safe’ before introducing the next one
  2. For flowering plants, make sure flowers have short stamens and little pollen
  3. Choose plants with smooth leaves that don’t trap allergens easily

Choosing plants carefully can bring many benefits to the home, whether you suffer from allergies or not.

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