How Certain Plants May Help (or Worsen) Asthma

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Plants can have both a positive and negative effect on asthma. While many plants are well-known to exacerbate cases affected by pollen, plants, in general, can reduce air pollution and improve asthma symptoms. Even how you take care of your plants, both those indoors and outdoors, can have an impact on your condition.

As you plan out which plants to keep in or add to your home and your yard, consider their potential impact on your asthma—for better or for worse—just as you would other factors, such as light and watering requirements. Azaleas, daffodils, and orchids are just some of the beautiful asthma-approved options you can choose from.

The Best Houseplants for Asthma

Theresa Chiechi / Verywell

Plants and the Air Your Breathe

Wherever they are, plants interact with their environment and alter it in a number of ways. Some of the changes that plants make to their surroundings are beneficial for people who have asthma.

Plants survive through photosynthesis, the biochemical process of taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, which improves air quality. Another reaction, phytoremediation, is the process by which plants absorb, degrade, and then detoxify particulate matter. This includes pollutants that can exacerbate asthma.

Additionally, plants alter the composition of mold and bacteria in the atmosphere, and this can help clear microorganisms that worsen your asthma from the air so you won't inhale them.

Best Plants for Asthma

All plants help to purify the air around them, but some plants also produce allergens. Pollen is a particular concern, as it can worsen asthma symptoms.

Fortunately, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor plant options that don't add that complicating factor.

In general, plants that use insects to pollinate instead of relying on airborne pollen tend to be safer for asthma, as are those less likely to harbor insects or attract dust.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the following plants are considered asthma-friendly:

  • Azalea
  • Begonia
  • Boxwood
  • Cactus
  • Cherry tree
  • Chenille
  • Clematis
  • Columbine
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Dahlia
  • Dusty miller
  • Geranium
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea
  • Impatiens
  • Iris
  • Orchid
  • Pansy
  • Periwinkle
  • Petunia
  • Rose
  • Snapdragon
  • Tulip
  • Zinnia

Male vs. Female Plants

You might notice that your asthma is worse in the spring or summer. This trend is often related to pollen counts in the air. Most plants are both male and female, but some are not.

Male plants produce more pollen, while female plants help remove pollen from in and around your garden. Male and female trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses all follow this pattern. Experts agree that female plants are better for asthma than male plants.

Male and female plants of the same species have a slightly different appearance. If you aren't an expert at differentiating male and female plants, you can ask a specialist to help you when you are buying plants or you can compare the appearance of your plant with photos of the male and female versions of the species.

Native Plants

Plants that are not suited for your climate are hard to keep alive, which can lead to decay. This can promote mold and spore growth that's likely to trigger your asthma.

Choosing plants that are native to your area or are native to areas similar to yours can help mitigate this risk.

Caring for Your Plants

Even when you select the right plants, keeping them healthy is critical to them remaining asthma-safe.

If your plant develops growths or disease or starts to rot, for example, you could end up inhaling mold and small particles that worsen your asthma.

Whether you directly take care of plants yourself or whether you're around plants that have been chemically treated with fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides, you could inhale toxic substances that trigger inflammation and bronchospasm (sudden narrowing of the airways).

Smart plant care strategies that can help include:

  • Avoiding overwatering to prevent mold build-up and insects.
  • Trimming or clearing away dead or moldy areas. Swap in fresh soil as needed.
  • Using the right type of pot for adequate drainage; research the type that's best for each of your plants, or ask your local nursery.
  • Keeping your plant in the right conditions (sun, shade, and temperature).
  • Considering natural ways to fertilize your plants, such as adding eggshells to soil.

Asthma Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman

Plants to Avoid

Some people who have asthma may have a strong reaction to most asthma-inducing plants, while other people with asthma might be able to tolerate limited exposure to them.

Anything with visible pollen (e.g., lilies) may be problematic, indoors or out. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests that you also particularly avoid plants that are "distant cousins" of ragweed, a common asthma trigger. These include:

  • Chrysanthemums
  • Daisies
  • Sunflowers

Some plants may also be more likely to harbor asthma-triggering dust simply because their leaves are fuzzy instead of smooth. This allows dust to cling and makes it harder to clean off. As such, you should think about avoiding indoor plants such as African violets and some wandering Jew varieties.

Many of the plants that produce high amounts of pollen are actually trees, shrubs, grasses, and weeds. While you can avoid adding them to your landscape, you may encounter them regardless. Being aware of them can at least help you make associations between exposure and your symptoms.

Examples include:

  • Ash trees
  • Cedar trees
  • Common Bermuda grass
  • Cypress trees
  • Elm trees
  • Juniper shrubs (male)
  • Maple trees
  • Mulberry trees
  • Oak trees
  • Pine trees
  • Russian thistle
  • Sagebrush
  • Timothy grass
  • Walnut trees

If you are not sure exactly which plants are causing your symptoms, your healthcare provider might recommend allergy testing and/or you might need treatment with allergy shots or immunotherapy.

A Word From Verywell

While knowing which plants tend to affect asthma in general, what affects you may be very individual. If you experience asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and/or coughing after exposure to a certain plant, then it or something about it (such as mold or chemical treatments) could be to blame—even if the plant is on the "best picks" list.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Smart Gardening: Tips for an Allergy-Friendly Garden.

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.