Hay fever season is upon us, with all the sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and sore sinuses that this debilitating allergy brings.
Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever affects one in four people, while around 80% of those with asthma also have hay fever, according to Asthma UK.
It’s set off by a reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the early spring and summer months, as well as mould spores which can grow on rotting logs, fallen leaves, compost piles, and on grasses and grains.
Pollen and mould make it a nightmare for gardeners who want to enjoy their outdoor space.
But there are ways that hay fever sufferers can reduce the allergen triggers which set off the symptoms.
1. Lose the lawn
Grasses are among the main causes of hay fever, as they’re wind-pollinated. Their pollen is light and easily inhaled, and the airborne pollen is at its peak from late May to July.
Decking, gravel or paving may be the answer. If you can’t bear to lose your grass, make sure you mow it frequently to stop grasses flowering.
2. Choose low-allergen plants
Go for plants which are double-flowered and release far less pollen than single-flowered varieties. Bees might love open-flowered daisy-like plants including asters, but hay fever sufferers do not.
Go for insect-pollinated plants, whose flowers enclose the pollen, so the pollinating insects have to climb inside the plant to reach it. These include foxgloves, honeysuckle, penstemon and snapdragons.
Peonies are also a good choice, as they have thick and sticky pollen, which is less likely to become airborne.
Insect-pollinated plants have male and female reproductive organs within the same flower, so the pollen is not released into the air.
3. Don’t rule out roses
Roses produce heavy pollen, which is less likely to be spread by the wind – but select hybrids rather than wild roses. However, some sufferers’ symptoms are aggravated by heavily-scented plants, so bear this in mind before making your choice.
4. Avoid wind-pollinated plants and trees
Beware of plants with small or feathery-looking flowers, as they’re generally pollinated by the wind. These include ornamental grasses, such as pampas and carex. Ferns can also produce spores affecting people with allergies.
Trees such as elm and oak can aggravate symptoms, too. Don’t include trees or shrubs with catkins in your garden – hazel, birch and alder, for example – as they produce huge amounts of pollen in spring.
Weeds such as nettles, plantain and dock can extend the period of suffering until September.
Trees with large blooms are also a no-no, including horse chestnuts. If you want trees in your garden, go for those with smaller blossom, such as Amelanchier and crab apple.
5. Watch the weather
If you’re determined to venture into the garden, choose a cool, cloudy day, preferably after rain. The pollen count tends to be highest in the early evening, so get out into the garden earlier in the day if you can.
It’s likely there will be more pollen in the air on hot, dry, windy days, so avoid gardening in this sort of weather.
Asthma UK advises sufferers to avoid gardening just before or after a thunderstorm. It’s thought that when the humidity is high, windy conditions during a thunderstorm can cause high levels of pollen and mould spores to be swept up high into the air, where the moisture breaks them into much smaller pieces.
As the particles then settle back down, these smaller pieces of pollen and mould can be breathed into the smaller airways of the lungs, where they can cause irritatation and trigger asthma symptoms.
6. Be picky when growing your own
Avoid wind-pollinating crops, such as sweetcorn. Instead, go for self-fertile varieties of beans and courgettes, and leafy crops and salads, such as rocket and beetroot.