Plants are an inseparable part of most homes in the world. There is rarely a place with nary a plant inside. They are decorative, some are excellent at purifying the air, and some are actually spices that are grown for cooking purposes.
However, there is one difficulty for allergy sufferers – some plants can trigger allergies. But despite common opinion, not all plants do this.
Can Houseplants Cause Allergies- Lets find out!
Briefly on Allergies
An allergy is a response that our immune system has when the body gets into contact with a substance that is falsely identified as harmless. Some of the main ‘felons’ are some foods (milk, nuts), dust mites, pollen, latex, medication, and insect stings.
When a body detects the unwanted substance, it gets into a defensive state, lets out antibodies, and causes chemical reactions to appear – they are what we feel as allergy symptoms.
Though it is widely believed that most allergies are caused by particles in the outdoor air, this opinion is not entirely true. People are more prone to getting allergic reactions from the inside air, as improper ventilation may keep harmful pollutants inside houses and apartments.
Listed below are some of the harmful pollutants and how they affect the human organism.
- Toluene. The use of toluene is in paints, lacquers, and adhesives as a solvent. This substance may cause irritation in a number of organs – skin, eyes, respiratory system. Also, it can affect the central nervous system and provoke headaches, drowsiness, and even seizures and hallucinations in more serious cases.
- Xylene. This substance is utilized when processing wood and in the petroleum industry. Irritation of skin, eyes, nose, or throat is possible; the more serious reactions include confusion, headaches, and loss of muscle control.
- Benzene. The biggest amount of benzene in our homes comes from tobacco. This substance is found in gasoline and crude oil. It is utilized to make plastics, detergents, paints and dyes, lubricants, rubber, synthetic fibers, etc. Too much exposure to benzene may cause headaches, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, tremors, and it can also have more serious consequences in case of high exposure.
- Formaldehyde. Space heaters and gas stoves are the places to find this substance. It causes eye, nose, skin, and throat irritation and may lead to asthma or even cancer when the exposure is too high.
- Trichloroethylene (TCE). TCE is used for removing grease from metal and it is found in paint removers and adhesives in our homes. It has a bad effect on our immune system.
- Carbon monoxide. This substance is emitted by the heating system, various appliances in our homes, cookers, and even fire. The effects that inhaling carbon monoxide has on our bodies are dizziness, weakness, inability to breathe deeply, nausea, unconsciousness, and even death.
There are certain plants that contain substances that may cause allergic reactions. Some plant allergens initiate a reaction after physical contact and others via inhalation. There are hundreds of allergens and it is very difficult to point out one of them. An additional difficulty may be the fact that several allergens may work at the same time.
For those people who have both allergies and a green thumb, three very important caveats to follow are:
- Wipe your plants’ foliage regularly to prevent dust from accumulating.
- Don’t let the soil in the pot get too damp; ensure good drainage.
- Choose your plants carefully because there are those that don’t cause allergic reactions.
A plant-caused allergy may be mistaken for mold allergy. Mold often appears in the soil, so it is not hard to make an erroneous conclusion that it is the plant that caused the indoor allergies when it is actually the mold.
A way to avoid this is to avoid getting mold in pots altogether. A way to do this is not to over-water your plants, to allow enough sunlight, and to provide sufficient ventilation in the room so that there is a lot of fresh air in the room.
Symptoms of Plant Allergies
In everyday life, we usually refer to the allergies caused by common houseplants (and outdoor plants as well) as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. This is because they often have airborne allergens. This problem usually affects the nose. The symptoms of hay fever are:
- runny nose,
- irritated or watery eyes,
- puffy eyes or dark circles under them.
On the other side are the skin reactions that appear after contact with certain plants. The reaction is triggered by the liquid that comes out of the parts of a plant (stem, fruit, or leaves). The symptoms of skin irritation are:
- contact dermatitis,
- rash (hives, eczema),
- skin lesions.
Best Indoor Plants for an Allergy-Free Home
Anyone who gets an allergic reaction but wants to grow plants must wonder: ‘Can indoor plants grow without causing my allergy symptoms to appear?’ The answer is a resounding YES. There are plants that improve the air quality rather than release indoor allergens.
Some ornamental plants remove airborne pollutants and volatile organic compounds such as toluene, xylene, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
Other common houseplants improve indoor air quality by acting as the natural humidifier. Now, humidity can be good or bad. The bad side is that mold and dust mites thrive in such an environment; that is why ventilation is important. On the other hand, it is very good because the wet air keeps the pollen down and eases nasal congestion.
Some of the plants that you can grow in your home freely are:
- Philodendron – removes formaldehyde from the air. It is easy to care for and may grow tall to decorate an empty corner of a room or a corridor.
- English Ivy – fights mold growth by absorbing moisture. It is excellent for bathrooms, kitchens, and any other places with high humidity and the risk of developing mold spores.
- Gerbera Daisy – removes benzene from the air. It needs a pot with good drainage and a sunny place in your home. It is deemed by NASA to be one of the best plants to purify indoor air.
- Peace Lily – may improve air quality considerably; some estimates say that the air is as much as 60% cleaner with this plant inside. Peace Lilies is the plant that is found in American homes most often.
- Snake Plant (Mother-In-Law’s Tongue) – excellent at removing pollutants from the air inside the room. According to NASA’s research, plants from this group eliminate TCE, benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. They tolerate low light and are very easy to care for.
- Spider Plant – removes over 90% of air pollutants, especially formaldehyde. It takes only several days to get the air inside your home cleansed by this plant.
- Areca Palm trees – humidifies air and removes harmful toxins – xylene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and toluene. These plants are not only useful but beautiful as well.
Worst Indoor Plants for Causing Allergies
Weeping figs may provoke skin irritation, with symptoms sometimes similar to latex allergy. If the allergic reaction gets too severe, swelling may occur around the mouth and eyes, and it may bring about even anaphylactic shock in the extreme.
The fuzzy leaves of African violets gather much dust, so this plant should also be avoided by allergy sufferers.
Palms are regarded as safe, though this should be applied loosely to the male palms. The reason is that they may generate more pollen. The same goes for cedar and juniper bonsai trees because the large outdoor varieties also create much pollen. Yucca is another plant that may cause this problem, as well as floral bouquets in vases.
Ferns should also be avoided as indoor plants because they need damp soil to grow well, and mold is one of the causes of indoor allergies. Also, due to the contact with this plant, a person prone to allergies may get skin rash similar to the irritation caused by poison ivy.
Tips for Allergy Sufferers
- Grow plants that have smooth foliage as they will not hold much dust and other allergens.
- If you have plants with large leaves, wipe the dust off them regularly.
- If you want a plant with flowers, choose those with little pollen and short stems.
- Don’t overwater your plants to avoid mold growth in the soil. Putting rocks at the bottom of the pot is a way to improve drainage.
- Add one plant to a time to make sure you don’t have a reaction to each of them.
If you are an allergy sufferer, you will certainly think twice before introducing a plant to your home. Certainly, some plants may exacerbate allergies, causing your plant allergies or hay fever to appear. A weeping fig, an African Violet, and some bonsai trees are examples that should be avoided.
However, there are plants that may alleviate the allergy symptoms and improve the quality of the air inside your home. Some everyday substances, including mould spores, that are considered to be airborne allergens are ever-present in our homes. Instances of the plants mentioned that remove the harmful toxins are English Ivy, Peace Lily, and Snake Plant.
All in all, whether you are good at gardening or wish to try and grow plants in your home, your allergies don’t have to be the obstacle. Choose your plants carefully and enjoy gardening!