Cacti are spiny succulent plants with cylindrical or spherical shapes.
These plants can be found in several parts of the world such as the Americas, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
According to experts, cactus plants have existed since the Triassic period between 230 and 201 million years ago!
There are over 2,400 different species of cactus plants available in the market today with about 800 species of cactus native to the Americas alone.
Table of Contents
If you or someone in your family suffers from allergies, it can be difficult to decide what type of plants you should keep around the house.
Not only do you have to worry about pollen, but also if pet dander and dust from certain plants will trigger an allergic reaction, even if you can’t see them.
One such plant that people with allergies should probably avoid at all costs is the cactus plant.
Unfortunately, these prickly plants are commonly found in homes because of their long-lasting flowers and attractive looks.
People that live in areas with hot and dry climates typically have larger quantities of cactus plants in their homes and yards than people living in other parts of the country.
And while these desert plants may look interesting and attractive, they can cause some trouble if you happen to be allergic to them, or their thorns or spines prick your skin.
In this article, we will help you learn more about the allergies caused by a cactus and how to manage them better.
We also study the inherent structure of the plant, where it comes from, and some of the tips to take care of it.
Symptoms of Cactus Allergies
Allergies can occur in virtually any substance, including cacti. Allergic reactions are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a specific substance, known as an allergen.
When it comes to cacti, the allergens can be the plant’s pollen, spines (or glochids), or sap. Here are some of the symptoms of cactus allergies:
- Skin Reactions: Direct contact with cactus spines or sap can cause skin reactions such as redness, swelling, itching, hives, or rash. Some people may develop dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin that leads to a red, itchy rash.
- Respiratory Symptoms: If you’re allergic to cactus pollen and you inhale it, you could experience typical hay fever symptoms. These include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, and coughing. In more severe cases, people can experience asthma-like symptoms, including wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.
- Eye Irritation: Direct contact with cactus spines, glochids, or sap can lead to eye irritation. Symptoms include redness, itching, tearing, and swelling of the eyes. In rare cases, if a cactus spine or glochid gets into the eye, it could cause a more serious injury.
- Anaphylaxis: In rare cases, a person may have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Symptoms include a rash or hives all over the body, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, throat, or mouth, rapid pulse, dizziness, and a sudden feeling of extreme illness. If you experience these symptoms after exposure to a cactus, seek medical help immediately.
If you think you may be allergic to cacti and are experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to consult with an allergist or another healthcare professional.
They can conduct tests to determine if you are indeed allergic and advise you on the best course of treatment.
Remember, even if you’re not allergic, cactus spines can cause physical injury, so always handle these plants with care.
High-Risk Cacti Species
There are several cactus species that may pose risks due to their poisonous components, spines, or propensity to cause allergic reactions.
It’s important to remember that cacti should always be handled with care to avoid injury. Here are a few examples of higher-risk cacti species:
- Opuntia Microdasys: Also known as the Bunny Ears cactus, this plant has small, hair-like barbs called glochids that can detach easily and embed themselves in the skin, causing irritation and discomfort. They are very difficult to remove due to their size.
- Echinocactus Grusonii: The Golden Barrel cactus is known for its long, sharp spines. While not poisonous, these spines can cause significant physical injury if not handled correctly.
- Cylindropuntia Fulgida: The Jumping Cholla has spines that can easily detach and pierce skin. Despite the name, the cactus doesn’t actually jump, but its spines are so loosely attached that even a slight brush can cause them to attach to your skin or clothing.
- Lophophora Williamsii: More commonly known as Peyote, this cactus contains mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance. It is considered a controlled substance in many countries due to its psychoactive properties. Ingesting Peyote can lead to serious physical and psychological effects.
- Coryphantha Ramillosa: Also known as the Pincushion cactus, it’s covered in small spines that can easily become lodged in the skin. In addition, some people may have skin reactions to the plant’s sap.
- Euphorbia Cacti: While not true cacti but often mistaken as such, many plants in the Euphorbia genus have a milky sap that is irritating to the skin and eyes and can be toxic if ingested.
These are just a few examples. Remember, the best way to avoid problems with cacti is to handle them properly.
Use gloves and tools when handling or repotting cacti, keep them out of reach of children and pets, and avoid touching your face or eyes after handling these plants without washing your hands thoroughly first.
Can Cacti Cause Allergies?
If you have any allergies to pollen or dust mites, it is possible that you will also be allergic to contact with cactus spines.
The most common allergic reaction to a cactus is contact dermatitis, which can appear as itchy red patches on your skin.
This happens because of prickly barbs on cacti called glochids.
If you’re prone to allergies or have sensitive skin, it may be best for you to keep your distance from cacti until you know that they don’t affect you.
Cacti can cause allergies if you have allergies from dust mites or pollen.
It is important to know which type of cactus plant you are planting because they do not all provide the same level of protection.
It might be best to buy your cactus at a garden center so you can learn more about the benefits and drawbacks before purchasing them yourself.
When buying a cactus, you should make sure it does not have any scratches, holes, or other imperfections because those are the places where pests like spider mites and mealy bugs could enter.
Properly maintained cacti require very little effort on behalf of the owner; some people enjoy using them as houseplants!
It’s important to know how much water your particular cactus needs based on its environment and what type it is.
Prickly pears, for example, require an ample amount of water since they originate from the desert!
Some people find that taking care of a cactus becomes an enjoyable hobby rather than an arduous task.
Are there health risks with cacti and succulents?
Like any other plant, if cacti and succulents have pollen on their stems or leaves, they can cause reactions in people who are allergic to them.
When a person has an allergy, her immune system sees a specific plant as a threat.
Antibodies are produced in reaction to help protect your body from that threat by producing symptoms like hay fever, runny nose, and watery eyes.
If you suspect that you might be having an adverse reaction to one of these plants, wash the affected area immediately and call for emergency medical attention.
There are things you can do to avoid contact with these allergens, however.
Avoid touching the plant or flowers, wear long sleeves when gardening around cacti or succulents, and keep them away from children who might not understand the risks involved with touching them.
These precautions will help you enjoy these plants without running into any unnecessary difficulties.
Treatment and Prevention of Cactus Allergies
Cactus allergies can be prevented and treated similarly to other types of plant allergies. Here are some strategies for managing and preventing these allergies:
- Gloves and Protective Clothing: Always wear gloves when handling cacti to avoid skin contact with the plant. Long-sleeved shirts and pants can help protect your arms and legs.
- Avoidance: If you know you’re allergic to cacti, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid contact with these plants. If you must be around cacti, try to limit your exposure.
- Careful Handling: Handle cacti carefully to avoid being pricked by the spines, which can cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction.
- Remove Spines: If you’re pricked by a cactus spine, carefully remove it using tweezers. Be sure not to break the spine as it can make removal more difficult and potentially lead to infection.
- Wash the Area: After removing the spine, wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any remaining plant material that may cause an allergic reaction.
- Topical Treatments: Over-the-counter creams and ointments that contain hydrocortisone can help reduce inflammation and itching. Antihistamine creams can also be useful for treating skin reactions.
- Oral Antihistamines: If you’re experiencing a more severe reaction, oral antihistamines can help reduce allergy symptoms.
- Seek Medical Attention: If you have a severe reaction, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or if the affected area becomes infected, seek medical attention immediately.
Remember, everyone’s body reacts differently to allergens, so what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re having trouble managing your symptoms, speak with a healthcare professional. They can help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
In conclusion, while cacti are generally seen as low-allergy plants, it is indeed possible for some individuals to experience allergies triggered by these desert dwellers.
This may be caused by the cactus spines, which can potentially cause skin irritation or allergic reactions upon contact.
Alternatively, some individuals may react to the mold or dust that can accumulate on these plants. While it is rare, severe allergic reactions may also occur, especially if an individual is hypersensitive to the plant material.
It is therefore important for individuals to exercise caution when handling cacti, especially if they have a known sensitivity or have previously experienced allergies with other plants.
This includes wearing protective clothing when handling cacti, regular cleaning of indoor cacti to prevent dust accumulation and appropriate care when removing any lodged spines.
As always, anyone experiencing severe or persistent allergic reactions should seek immediate medical attention. While cacti are beautiful and hardy plants, their potential to cause allergies should not be overlooked.
Are certain species of cacti more likely to cause allergies?
While all cacti have the potential to cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, certain species might be more likely to do so because of their specific characteristics.
For example, Opuntia (prickly pear) and Cylindropuntia (cholla) cacti have small, barbed spines known as glochids.
These can easily detach and embed themselves in the skin, often causing irritation and allergic reactions.
The tiny spines are difficult to see and remove, so the irritation can last for several days, and for those with an allergy to the cacti, this can trigger an allergic reaction.
Echinocactus (like the golden barrel cactus) also has large and prominent spines that can cause skin injury and subsequent reactions.
However, it’s important to note that allergic reactions may not always be caused by the cactus itself. Dust, mold, and insects that accumulate on the cactus may also contribute to allergies.
Remember, if you know you have a plant or pollen allergy, it’s best to take precautionary measures when handling cacti, such as wearing gloves or a mask.