Gardening and asthma

Even a short session of weeding, mowing or digging can help improve your asthma as well as your mood

Find out how to enjoy all the benefits from gardening with our top tips.

Gardening for exercise – avoiding asthma symptoms

Did you know that being active in the garden counts towards your 150 minutes of recommended exercise a week?

A good mix of gardening activities like weeding, digging or mowing the lawn can improve your breathing, stamina, and overall fitness.

It’s also a great mood booster. And studies show that being around trees and greenery is good for your breathing.

But what if you notice that physical effort in the gardening brings on your asthma symptoms?

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP, says:

  • “If asthma symptoms stop you gardening or make you avoid certain tasks, your asthma’s probably not as well controlled as it could be.
  • Go for an asthma review if your symptoms come on when you’re in the garden. Your GP or asthma nurse can help you get your asthma symptoms under control. They’ll check you’re on the right medicines at the right dose and check your inhaler technique.
  • Have your reliever inhaler handy so it’s ready to use if you do get symptoms. Make sure it’s somewhere clean and dry and out of the sun. And always keep the lid on until you use it, so no dirt gets in.”

Dealing with triggers – pollen, mould spores and garden chemicals

“You can’t get rid of all asthma triggers in the garden. And even if you make changes in your own garden, you can’t stop pollen or bonfires or even chemical sprays from neighbours or the local area affecting you,” says Dr Andy Whittamore.

“But what you can do is take your asthma preventer medicines as prescribed. This is always going to be your best line of defence against any asthma triggers because it cuts down inflammation in your airways and makes them less likely to react.”

You can also try these extra tips:


If pollen is your asthma trigger in the garden

  • Treat your hay fever with antihistamines as well as taking your asthma medicines. And find out what else you can do to manage your hay fever.
  • Avoid long sessions in the garden on high pollen count days. Shower and change when you go in because pollen sticks to your hair and clothes.
  • Keep pollen down in your own garden by keeping your grass short and pulling out weeds regularly so they can’t flower and release pollen. But be aware that pollen can blow in from other gardens and the surrounding area.
  • Avoid plants and trees with a high allergy rating. For example, trees with catkins like silver birch, and grasses and plants with feathery-looking flowers, have light pollen that’s airborne and easy to breathe in.
  • Go for insect pollinated plants which usually have showy flowers. The pollen is hidden inside the flower and too sticky and heavy to be carried by the wind.  You can find a full list here.
  • Some people find that wearing a face mask over their nose and mouth cuts down how much pollen they breathe in when mowing the grass. Remember to get rid of the grass clippings too.

If mould and fungal spores are your asthma trigger in the garden

  • Talk to your GP or asthma nurse if you notice symptoms when you’re raking leaves, turning compost bins, using mulch products like leaf mould and bark or using bagged compost for planting. Antihistamines may help.
  • Get rid of any dead, diseased or rotting plants quickly to reduce mould spores.
  • Keep your compost heap covered and avoid turning it over in warm weather – dampening it down first can help.
  • Choose a mulch that doesn’t rot down, like gravel, instead of wood chips or garden compost which release spores as they decompose.
  •  Avoid opening bags of compost in a closed place like a shed or a greenhouse – and keep your head out of the bag!

 If weed killers and other garden chemicals trigger your asthma symptoms

  • Consider organic gardening methods to avoid the risk from chemicals – set beer traps for slugs, and use a hoe or weed by hand. Or consider a layer of gravel mulch to suppress weeds.
  • Open the windows and vents if you need to use chemicals in a greenhouse or shed. Some products recommend you wear a protective mask.
  • Keep children away while you’re using any pesticides, and off any areas of the garden you’ve just treated. Children with asthma are particularly sensitive.

Is it possible to keep allergens low in your garden?

Some people tell us that choosing plants that don’t set off their asthma symptoms, and avoiding those that do, makes a difference to them in their own gardens.

But even if your own garden is full of low-allergen plants and materials, and you’re doing all you can to keep it asthma-friendly, pollen and mould spores can blow into it from neighbouring gardens, and from even further away than that.

So it’s worth considering how much effort, and how much money, you want to put into redesigning your garden to make it low allergy.

“Because pollen and mould spores are easily carried in the air, there’s a limit to how much you can reduce allergens in your garden,” says Dr Andy Whittamore. “It’s easier to focus on keeping your asthma as well managed as you can so that any garden triggers are not such a problem for you.”

 

Last updated April 2019

Next review due April 2021