Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Spring, Gardening, and Asthma


By Tracy Marquette, RRT, AE-C

It’s that time of the year: trees are turning green, grass is growing, and flowers are blooming — some of my favorite things about Spring. I long to be outside in the beautiful weather, digging in the dirt, but being an asthmatic can make Spring a nightmare.

Living in Southern Louisiana, I awake in the mornings with a film of yellow pollen on my car from my beautiful oak trees. I can almost see the pollen drifting in the breeze. Fortunately, I am a respiratory therapist and asthma educator with intermittent asthma and understand my triggers, know my peak flow numbers, and understand control.

For other asthmatics, here are a few hints to help you enjoy gardening, whether it’s a flower or a vegetable garden.

  • Personal care is the starting point. Seeing your doctor on a regular basis, knowing your triggers, and understanding your medications play an intricate role in how much gardening you are able to do. Gaining control of your asthma prior to the start of gardening season can bring a bountiful reaping of joy.
  • Recognizing control is important. Remember this simple rule of twos: Are you using albuterol or your quick relief medications more than twice a week? Are asthma symptoms waking you more than twice a month? Have you filled your albuterol canister more than twice in the year at the beginning of gardening season? Is your peak flow number 20% less than it normally runs? Answering yes to these questions may warrant a visit to your doctor and a review of your controller medications.
  • Clothing can also play a role in outdoor enjoyment. There are some great lightweight materials that allow you to wear long sleeves to cover those arms from dirt and pollen but also help you to stay cool. Keep your hands from touching your face. Gloves and hats are also helpful in keeping pollen away from skin and hair. Allergic to grass? Wearing a mask is beneficial. Leaving shoes at the door is a great way to keep pollen out of your home. Once you come inside all gardening clothes should immediately go into the washer.
  • Timing is very important. Grass pollen is released from May onward. Grass pollens are released in the morning and then decrease in the evening. If grass pollen is your trigger, schedule gardening in-between these events. To avoid hay fever, work in the middle of the day. Flowers release their pollens from June to late September, although flower pollens tend to be heavier and fall to the ground quickly rather than float in the air. If pollens really inhibit you from gardening, consider cementing an area and just utilize potted plants. Pollen counts are much higher on windy days and rise before a thunderstorm. Consider finding a website that monitors pollen.
  • Types of plants can also make a difference. Consider enjoying potted plants such as begonias, cactus, chenille, hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, periwinkle, petunia, phlox, salvia, snapdragon, tulip, zinnia, azalea, and boxwood. The best grasses for allergy suffers are Buffalo and St. Augustine. High pollen trees and shrubs such as cypress, juniper, ash, beech, cedar, oak, mulberry, pecan, poplar, sycamore, walnut, and willow are best planted farther away from your home.

As I sit on my porch, overlooking the sugarcane fields of Southern Louisiana, with my stately oaks in front of my home, I respect the knowledge I have acquired about asthma and understand that following many of these simple steps may help me to enjoy this season and breathe more easily.

Tracy Marquette is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Louisiana, where she currently serves as a respiratory therapist and asthma educator at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge and coordinator of the Community Asthma Management Program, a collaborative effort between her hospital and other organizations in the area. She was recently appointed to serve a two-year term on the Association of Asthma Educators’ board of directors as well.
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