Erin Doman on July 27, 2016 7 Comments For allergy sufferers, creating an allergen-free home is one of the best ways to combat persistent symptoms. When the warmer weather begins — even as early as late winter — pollen counts skyrocket, sending many people indoors to catch their breath. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to keep allergies at bay. Keeping your indoor space clean and clear is one of the first courses of action, and though many indoor houseplants can assist in fending off allergens, it’s important to know which ones cause more problems than they solve. Air Purifiers to Help You Breathe Easy There are plenty of online articles outlining helpful houseplants for allergy sufferers. Many years ago, NASA discovered that a variety of common houseplants can literally “clean” the air of your home, taking in air through their leaves, and filtering out toxins and pet dander that irritate sinuses. These houseplants are also low on the pollen scale, and may significantly help those with pollen and mold sensitivities. And yet, it’s just as pertinent to know which plants to avoid, since many of which are commonly chosen for homes, offices and schools. When many plants and trees pollinate, the dusty, reproductive material floats through the air, stopping along the way to irritate and confuse the immune systems of many allergy sufferers. The body recognizes the pollen as an outside offender, sending fluid to the sinuses and causing the common pollen reactions: headaches, stuffed nose and runny eyes. When purchasing any plant, it is helpful to advise the OPALS scale (Ogren Plant-Allergy Scale), created in 2000 by Thomas Leo Ogren. The scale rates plants and trees on a 1-10 scale — 10 denoting the highest potential for irritating allergy sufferers and 1 representing a lesser chance of issues. This scale is based on contact, inhalation and odor-based allergic reactions, and takes into account many common houseplants. The plants listed below fall on the higher side of this scale, normally getting a rating of nine or ten. 1. Daisies As a member of the asteraceae family, these spring delights should be avoided due to their high pollen count. Particularly common in simple table bouquets, and now becoming popular as wedding decor, daisies could cause a range of allergy issues for you and your guests. 2. Juniper (Bonsai) It may be tiny, but members of the juniper and cedar family can irritate those with tree allergies when they are brought inside in their smaller form. Juniper trees in particular have been known to cause rashes if the skin is pricked while watering or pruning the tree. Wearing gloves when caring for these Bonsai plants will significantly decrease the risk of allergic reactions. 3. Chamomile Chamomile serves as more than just a relaxing tea option. Similar in appearance to a daisy, chamomile flowers are often used in wildflower bouquets for table-scapes and arrangements. However, since chamomile is related to ragweed, those with weed allergies should switch these flowers out with a a hypoallergenic alternative to avoid a stuffy nose. 4. English Ivy Often seen climbing the sides of buildings (perhaps without being invited), English ivy is also a lovely addition inside the home. It actually can have effective methods of cleaning your home’s air, and is often included on lists of “safe plants”. However, English ivy isn’t safe for everyone. Many people have skin reactions to English ivy similar to what they would experience from poison ivy. Though these houseplants are not related, they can cause similar rashes and blisters to those who are sensitive. 5. Sunflowers They may make an elegant and hearty summer bouquet, but these highly allergenic flowers affect up to 30% of pollen sufferers that are affected by plants such as ragweed. In addition to sunflower pollen reactions, many are also effected through touch or by consuming seeds, especially those containing leftover pollen. In the most severe cases, people who consume sunflower seeds may experience anaphylaxis. 6. Weeping Fig (Ficus) One of the most commonly found indoor houseplants, the ficus is a bit of a surprise on this list of allergy-inducing additions to your home or office. In this plant’s case, the allergens exist in the sap, which can attach itself to dust particles, making it particularly irritating to allergy sufferers. Because this plant has similar proteins to what you’d see in latex, those who have reactions to latex should talk with their doctor before spending a good deal of time around a ficus. There are a few other plants that have a similar effect. For example, the sap of a poinsettia also tends to attach to dust, so these holiday fixtures should remain on the watch list of anyone who has known issues with ficus houseplants. 7. Queen Anne’s Lace Related to the wild carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace is a common addition to a wildflower arrangement, becoming more popular in the spring and summer. Queen Anne’s Lace ranks a 10 on the Ogren Plant-Allergy Scale. For sensitive individuals — especially those sensitive to weed allergies — this flower should be avoided due to its ability to cause skin rashes, especially on those who have spent a good deal of time in the sun. The rash has been compared to some individual’s reactions to Poison Oak. 8. Palm (Male) Before purchasing an indoor palm, seek advice from your local nursery on how to avoid allergy flare-ups. While female palms do not produce pollen, male palms will shed heaps of it. For those who have severe pollen allergies, this can be a regrettable purchase. If palms are your decoration of choice, speak with your florist about finding a female plant to avoid issues. 9. African Violets African violets are common indoor houseplants that are notorious for collecting dust. You’ll notice that these plants have particularly fuzzy leaves, which are excellent dust traps. Those with dust allergies should either choose plants and flowers with smooth or waxy leaves, or just be sure to regularly wipe off the leaves their African violets. 10. Chrysanthemums Though a festive favorite during fall, it’s best to keep chrysanthemums on the front stoop if pollen tends to affect you. This is because chrysanthemums are actually related to ragweed and can cause similar allergic reactions in those affected by daisies and sunflowers. Indoor plants often play a special role in regulating irritants in the air of our homes. As with all potential allergy triggers, it’s important to differentiate the good from the bad, as well as understand your body’s reactions. Bring one plant into your home at a time to monitor your reaction and tolerance in an organized way. When choosing indoor plants, consider more hypoallergenic species, such as ferns, begonias or cacti. When in doubt, check where the plants fall on the OPAL Scale. With a little research and self-awareness, nature can serve as a beautiful and health-affirming addition to any allergy sufferer’s home, as long as you do your research.