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Are indoor plants bad for asthma? close up photo of plant leaves

Are Indoor Plants Bad For Asthma? (or Allergies)

I think most of you know someone that has asthma. If you don’t, you officially know me so there you go.

In my case, it used to be a problem when I was a child, but I haven’t had an asthma attack since I was about 8 or 9 years old.

I usually forget that I have it until I accidentally bump on inhalers I have stashed around the house.

One thing that has people worried about houseplants is that they can be bad for asthma or allergies.

This is a really prevalent opinion. As a matter of fact, last summer a really close family friend almost cancelled his vacation to avoid my houseplants. His asthma is aggressive and has become a bit inhaler dependent in the last years.

Eventually he stayed at our place and he was completely fine, without having any attacks during the stay. Actually, quite the opposite happened.

In his own words, he felt like the plants helped.

So, what is the truth? Are indoor plants bad for asthma?

Unfortunately, certain species of indoor plants can be bad for asthma. Although plants help clean the air and raise oxygen levels that help alleviate respiratory problems, they can also spread pollen or develop fungus that worsen asthma symptoms.

This doesn’t mean that having indoor plants if you have asthma is something you should entirely dismiss.

Indoor plants don’t usually cause much trouble as the outdoors variety when it comes to asthma. In fact, if you choose the right plant species and take care of it, it can actually help.

Picture this, asthma triggers include allergies, certain foods, smoking or smoke, medications, weather conditions, etc.

Can you say that food is bad for asthma? Or the weather? Not really, it doesn’t make much sense, but at the same time it holds true.

With plants it’s similar.

Plants are amazingly beneficial, they help with pollution, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), airborne dust and increase oxygen levels, but at the same time there are many plant allergens and that’s the main cause for trouble.

That means that the main culprit here are outdoor plants, which are everywhere once you step out the door.

When it comes to houseplants, we can easily identify potential problems beforehand and just avoid having plants that might cause trouble in our house, thus getting all the benefits with none of the negatives.

Let’s explore further what are the best and what are the worst indoor plants when it comes to asthma.

You will be pleased to know that for the most part, indoor plants will actually help alleviate asthma symptoms.

Plants are nature’s miracle when it comes to improving air quality in the house.
As I detailed in another post, you would need an unreasonable amount of indoor plants if you plan on eliminating all VOCs and completely replacing the oxygen you consume. If you are curious about the subject and want to read more, click here to read the article and find out how many houseplants is too many.

The truth is every houseplant that you have will help improve air quality.

We know indoor air quality is poorer than outdoor air quality.

Here are a few things in the average household that may affect you as a healthy individual, not to mentioning someone suffering from asthma:

  • Benzene from plastics, fabrics, pesticides

  • Formaldehyde from detergents and cleaners

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Dust

  • Mold

By the way, you may have heard of houseplant mold. If you’re wondering whether or not that type of mold can trigger asthma, or you’re just curious about how to get rid of it, you can read more about this in another post I wrote dedicated to this topic.

Not only do plants help filter out VOCs like benzene and formaldehyde which have been linked to serious things like developing asthma, cancer and respiratory illness, but the right indoor plants can help you with all of the above.

Are indoor plants bad for asthma? houseplant near bed

But that’s not all, indoor plants will also help with:

  • Improving oxygen levels which in turn helps with better breathing and improved concentration

  • Help you sleep better

  • Reduce stress

  • Reduce anxiety

  • Improve mood

The oxygen one is pretty popular and most of us are aware of it, but do you know which plants are the best for clean air? Here’s a super interesting post I wrote on this topic.

All of these benefits are amazing, who doesn’t want to be healthier and happier?

But if you have asthma, there are real dangers in owning indoor plants, so you need to be careful.

There are 3 golden rules you must follow when planning for asthma improving plants:

  1. Healthy plants mean healthy air. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beneficial plant species in the world if it has fungus or mold. Those are the biggest dangers if you have asthma and you must do your best to avoid your houseplants developing them.

  2. Stick to the female plant. As a general rule, male plants produce the pollen while the female plants remove it. For a lot of plant species this is not a big deal, but if your asthma is aggressive and you are worried about pollen, just make this a rule. You can usually differentiate the plants by appearance or ask the seller, they should know their stuff.

  3. Avoid high pollen plants. In general, plants that use insects to pollinate and reproduce are a better idea than plants that spread airborne pollen.

Keeping those rules in mind, what are the best indoor plants for people with asthma?

Here are my top 5 and the reason I chose them.

1. Peace lily

Cleans air: 5/5

Why is it a good choice: Besides being easy going, pretty, cleans the air like few others and being pollinated by insects?

Another huge benefit is that it droops when it needs water, so you can easily avoid over watering and reduce the danger of fungal infections. Peace lilies also absorb mold from the environment which makes them extra good.

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2. Snake Plant

Cleans air: 4.5/5

Why is it a good choice: Superb air purifier, extremely tough and very pretty with it’s sword-like leaves. Another big advantage to snake plants is that you need to water so rarely you only do it when the soil is really dry. This provides a useful way to avoid overwatering and fungal infections.

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3. Cactus

Cleans air: 3/5

Why is it a good choice: Cactus is a really easy to care for, indestructible plant. All it does is conserve as much as possible. Also, it is one of the stingiest plants around, which means no scent and no pollen to worry about.

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4. Begonia

Cleans air: 3/5

Why is it a good choice: Begonias don’t have scent or any strong odour so nothing to worry about in that department. They are also easy enough to take care of, pretty and they make both female and male flowers in the same plant.

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5. Hibiscus

Cleans air: 3/5

Why is it a good choice: Hibiscus are beautiful tropical plants. They are either scentless or have a very modest fragrance. They self pollinate and are thirsty plants, which means they are hard to overwater.

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5 Indoor Plants Bad For Asthma

Now, we found out that plants can be helpful and beneficial for people with asthma, but there are plants you want to avoid.

A good thing to look for is avoiding houseplants that allow triggers for asthma attacks like dust, pollen and mold.

The 3 rules to stick too for indoor plants that can be bad for asthma are:

  1. Avoid plants that attract dust or fungal spores. We already know about fungus being bad, but dust particles can also be a big problem. There are certain houseplants that can capture particles on their leaves which you will have to clean – not so good if you have asthma.

  2. Avoid plants that are hard to care for or are easily overwatered. By far the biggest danger is mold or fungal spores. Try to avoid houseplants that are hard to care for and prone to develop problems in your climate. Also, avoid plants that require external chemicals for you to be able to grow them.

  3. Avoid high pollen plants. Same as above, high pollen plants can trigger allergies that impact asthma.

So, what are the worst indoor plants for people with asthma?

1. Ficus

Bad level: 4/5

Why is it a bad choice: Easier to grow than bonsai but can arguably cause as much or even more trouble. Ficus produce proteins similar to latex that get into your system either by touching the sap or inhalation, as they also release it in the air. They also have a lot of leaves that trap dust. Ficus problems are actually well known if you have allergies or asthma, so best to avoid it.

2. African Violets

Bad level: 4.5/5

Why is it a bad choice: African Violets are famous for white dusty leaves that are really annoying to keep clean. It’s called powdery mildew and it’s caused by a variety of funguses. It’s also really hard to get rid of. So how do you treat your African violet? With chemicals of course, double danger. If you are curious about mold on houseplants and how to get rid of it chemical free, the natural way, check out this article here. 

3. Bonsai trees

Bad level: 4/5

Why is it a bad choice: Trees in general are the problem when it comes to allergies and some bonsai are members of juniper or cedar family, which makes them a nightmare for people with allergies. Juniper bonsai specifically can cause people rashes while working with them. On top of that, they are well known for being hard to care for, a common symptom being that if the leaves turn brown, it’s probably too late and the roots are probably already rotten.

4. Male Palm trees

Bad level: 3.5/5

Why is it a bad choice: Palm trees can be tempting, they are beautiful tropical plants that are not that hard to care for. The problem is that male palm trees shed a lot, and I mean a lot of pollen. They can give you itchy eyes and a running nose quickly, so if you have asthma they are not a good idea.

5. Orchids

Bad level: 2.5/5

Why is it a bad choice: Ok, this is a bit controversial because orchids are considered good allergy plants, but we are not talking about allergies here. So why orchids?

While it is true that orchid pollen allergy is non existent, they are notoriously difficult to care for with one of the most common problems being rotten roots and mold.

Even healthy orchids secret a sticky substance made from sugar and water that attracts sucking insects. They also have a strong fragrance that can cause problems.

This being said, remember that anything over-watered can become a problem, so if you know you tend to overwater plants, adapt and stick to houseplants that are hard to overwater.

Are Indoor Plants Bad For Allergies?

We talked about asthma and how indoor plants can affect that condition.

The difference between asthma and allergies is that allergies are a trigger for asthma attacks. Both can be very serious conditions, but allergies are far more common than asthma.

I bet everyone knows someone who is at least allergic to one thing and their life revolves around avoiding that particular thing. Allergies are so common nowadays that it’s impossible not to know someone avoiding peanut butter or milk.

There are people that avoid houseplants like the plague because of pollen, but are they right?

Are indoor plants bad for allergies?

 Although not all indoor plants are bad for allergies, some plants can cause allergic reactions by either inhalation, or by touching parts of the plant. Commonly, plants trigger allergies by pollen and airborne particles the plant produces, but they also can cause skin irritation, itching and swelling when coming in contact with the sap the plant makes.
Are indoor plants bad for asthma? close up photo of plant pollen released in wind

Also, if you know what you’re allergic to and what you need to avoid, you can keep indoor plants that meet those criterias and live alongside them happily ever after.

Because you can pick between plants that don’t produce airborne pollen, have no fragrance or produce no sap, you’ll be able to enjoy the full benefits plants have to offer without any of the headaches.

5 Indoor Plants Good For Allergies

This is not such a straightforward answer as in the case of asthma, mainly because you could suffer from asthma and have no allergies, in which case you are good to go with anything in your house.

For allergies, you don’t really care how much a plant helps filtering the air if they release a lot of pollen and that’s what you are allergic too.

To make it simple, stick with these 3 rules for indoor plants that help with allergies:

  1. Avoid high pollen producers. As in the case with asthma, but even more so, the main culprit is pollen. You can either stick to females of the species, plants that need bees to pollinate or plants with pollen too heavy to become airborne.

  2. Avoid plants that are hard to care for. Either they are easy to overwater and develop fungus or they secrete a lot of sap and need constant cleaning. These plants are best left with people without allergic reactions.

  3. Look for plants with smooth leaves. This is a good way to tell that the plant will not catch dust or be high maintenance and require constant wiping.

Now that we have the rules, what are the best indoor plants for people with allergies?

1. Dracaena

Why is it a good choice: Dracaena is one of those tough plants that are almost impossible to kill. There is no pollen or mold to worry about and they’re leaves trap no dust. They are also excellent at cleaning the air.

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2. Petunia

Why is it a good choice: I personally love petunias. They are so pretty and there is something lady-like about them. When we talk about allergies there is no airborne pollen to worry about and no sap. To avoid overwatering and developing fungus, you just have to water once a week on the same day, there you go.

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3. Hibiscus

Why is it a good choice: Hibiscus makes a comeback on the allergy list. I highly recommend them for allergic people for the same reasons. No scent, no sap, they self pollinate and are hard too overwater.

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4. Peace lily

Why is it a good choice: This plant is just too good to ignore. They are great for allergic people too for the same reason we already stated.

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5. Tulip

Why is it a good choice: Tulips are considered low maintenance but I would say they are almost medium maintenance. Not a tough plant like the Dracaena but not too bad either. That being said, they are hard to overwater, they have really low pollen count and the pollen they have is too heavy to become airborne. Also, do you know anyone who doesn’t like tulips?

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5 Indoor Plants Bad For Allergies

Here is where the fun starts. I will keep this as general as possible but here are your 3 rules for what indoor plants to avoid if you have allergies:

Are indoor plants bad for asthma? ficus plant

  1. Avoid the male trees. Boys, am I right? This is a thing I really want to emphasize, they usually spread around so much pollen that you’ll sneeze at the sight of one.

  2. Pollen is enemy number 1. If the plant is known for releasing a lot of pollen, don’t have it in your house, doesn’t matter if it’s the female or the male of the species.

  3. Avoid strong fragrances. This is one that most people don’t realize until it’s too late. If you have allergic reactions, strong odours will be a trigger and this includes plants.

So, what are the worse indoor plants for allergies?

1. Male Palm trees

Bad level: 4.5/5

Why is it a bad choice: They make a comeback and this time number one on my list because the number one problem with plants and allergies is pollen. Very few plants release as much pollen as male palm trees.

2. Ficus

Bad level: 4/5

Why is it a bad choice: Ficus makes a comeback for being one of the plants that people with allergies keep having in their house and yet, it keeps making their allergies worse. When they realize it, they usually get rid of the plant but unfortunately, they give up plants all together, which makes ficus plants kind of a villain of the plant world.

3. Daisies

Bad level: 4/5

Why is it a bad choice: Daisies seem harmless cute little plants. This is the plant you usually see in movies being visited by bees, and there is true to that, they usually get pollinated by bees without releasing in the air.

The problem is that they have so much pollen count that just being near it will trigger your allergic reactions.

4. English Ivy

Bad level: 4/5

Why is it a bad choice: The english ivy releases pollen but they also cause allergic skin reactions with itching and swelling. They also look harmless and this might be one of the problems.

5. Pine (Christmas tree)

Bad level: 3.5/5

Why is it a bad choice: Is this cheating? Maybe. But it is technically a plant that makes way into your house at least once a year. This is my way of making people aware I guess. Christmas trees don’t flower, but they are trees after all and as such are they are especially bad with allergic symptoms.

Also, they can carry dust and mold around like crazy.

Shoutout to the African Violet who deserves a place on the bad for allergy list too because of those dust and mold collecting leaves but I decided to mix it up a bit.

So there you go, indoor plants can still provide amazing benefits even if you have asthma or allergies, you just have to choose the right ones.


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