I'm human and I have allergies. I suffer from classic hay fever. I understand loving flowers, but I hate springtime allergy blooms. You may love petunias and the fine roses that grow in your yard, but if you suffer from allergies, the spring months may make those beautiful flowers look scary to you. I have many patients who have allergies, even severe allergies, who garden. Yes, garden. Having allergies does not mean you have to give up the hobby you love, but it does mean you have to be adequately prepared before you start planting bulbs and trimming trees.
Before You Garden
Watch pollen counts: Pollen counts are highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Avoid gardening (and being outside in general) during those times. Instead, during this time of day stay indoors, use a HEPA-filter air purifier, keep your windows closed, and use air-conditioning to cool your house.
Use allergy eye drops: Eye drops (prescription or over the counter) will help moisten and soothe your eyes before they get affected by pollen, which may help reduce itchy eyes.
Take an antihistamine: I recommend my patients take a long-acting antihistamine pill once daily on high pollen count days, and generally at least one hour before they begin gardening. Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra all have a similar efficacy profile, but I recommend you try them all out to see which one gives you the best relief.
Use nasal sprays: Use an antihistamine nasal spray (e.g., Azelastine, Astepro or Patanase) 15 to 30 minutes before you begin gardening. You may also consider taking a daily anti-inflammatory nasal spray (e.g., Nasonex, Veramyst, Flonase, Omanris) to prevent symptoms, not only when you garden, but throughout the season.
Anything you can do to cover and protect yourself from the elements is key.
Wear gloves: If you have any sort of rashes from gardening, you must wear gloves. You can wear soft cotton gloves or rubber gloves (assuming you are not latex-allergic). Whatever you are more comfortable with and the higher they go up your arm the better.
Wear long sleeves and long pants: Tuck your pants into your socks to protect your ankles. This will also help protect you from ticks and other insects.
Take breaks: Some people think powering through their gardening will reduce their symptoms; however, taking frequent breaks will help your body adjust and relax.
Wear a mask: You can get very fancy with the masks; while the simple masks are not as good, they do work. Most people don't want to look like Darth Vader when they garden, but some protection between you and the pollen you would otherwise likely breathe in can help.
Wear goggles: Goggles may be a pain in the neck, but they work. In fact, gardening or not, I recommend my patients wear wrap around sunglasses to protect their eyes from pollen.
Wear a wide brimmed hat: Pollen gets into you hair more than anything. Your hat will act as a shield against pollen. But be aware that the pollen will collect on the brim of the hat.
Wear a nasal filter: Consider getting a nasal filter device. They are a novelty on the U.S. market, but they have been widely available in Japan and work great. Simply clip it on the part between your nostrils, the septum and you are set.
After You Garden
Take a shower: You have to wash away all the pollen. Pollen gets into your hair, on your eyebrows, eyelashes and face. Wash your hair, or at the very least, wash your whole face.
Put a cold compress on your eyes: For irritated eyes, put a cool damp cloth over your eyelids. Cool tea bags work as well, but skip the chamomile tea as some people have allergic reactions to that tea in particular.
Wash your clothes and put them in the dryer immediately. Store your gardening clothes separately from the rest of your clothes if you decide not to wash them immediately.
He is a HealthGrades Recognized Doctor.