Finally, the weather is warm enough for you to hit the streets and log some serious miles. But if you’re one of the nearly 18 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, the sneezing, watery eyes and itchy throat can kick in mid-course, forcing you to take a turn for the couch.
Those irritating symptoms occur after the body gets exposed to an allergen, like pollen, ragweed or grass, releasing inflammatory chemicals called histamines. For those who love exercising outdoors, there are ways to reduce the side effects, says Timothy Craig, D.O., professor of medicine and pediatrics at Penn State University’s Hershey Medical Center Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Continue to breathe easy and workout hard, by soaking up these strategies.
Allergy-Proof Your Workout
1. Find the source.
Don’t know exactly what sets off your sniffles? An allergist can help you nail down the precise triggers so you can be proactive in your care and know what to avoid and when, says Clifford Bassett, M.D., director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. Find a doc near you by visiting allergyandasthma.org.
2. Follow the forecast.
Before you head outside, check local pollen and pollutant counts, says Bassett. You can find these on your local weather channel, aaaai.org, or pollen.com. It’s a good idea stay indoors during peak periods when you’re more likely to experience symptoms and instead opt for exercising later in the day, around sunset. At this time, counts are often lower and winds less intense so you won’t have irritants flying into your eyes, nose and mouth. It can also help to choose a route or exercise in an area without grass to keep from stirring up spores.
3. Shield your eyes and head.
“Besides blocking UV rays, sunglasses can also protect your eyes from allergens that cause redness, watering, and itching,” says Bassett. Choose a larger pair that covers your peepers in their entirety. Wearing a hat is a good option, too, as it will prevent the build-up of pollen in your hair, hindering you from carrying it into your home (especially if you have a substance like hairspray in your strands that’s sticky enough for particles to stay put). Just remember to leave the cap outside or carry it in a plastic bag right to the laundry machine.
4. Take the proper meds.
“Try over-the-counter meds to ease the allergy symptoms,” says Craig. Twice-a-day antihistamines work best this time of year, but steer clear of those with sedatives (like Bendryl), which can slow your sweat session. Skip long-acting decongestants, too — they may disrupt your sleep, causing you to feel groggy and less motivated to squeeze in more physical activity.
5. Clear the air.
While changing up your breathing (particularly during athletic activity) might not be ideal, some experts suggest breathing in through your nose to help minimize your allergy symptoms. Bassett explains that it can also lessen the likelihood of dry air entering your lungs, causing respiratory problems. However, the most common allergy symptom, nasal stuffiness often leads to inhaling and exhaling through the mouth. Control this congestion (and avoid mouth breathing) with a nasal steroid or spray — just limit use of these products to an as-needed basis. Also, try a moisturizer or saline gel to keep your nostrils from drying out.
6. Avoid pollutants when possible.
City-dwellers beware: Air pollutants and exhaust can worsen allergy issues. Knowing ozone alerts and avoiding rush-hour runs when particles are particularly high, stops these culprits from worsening symptoms, Craig says. Stay away from busy streets too, which can up your exposure.
7. Pollen-proof your house for better sleep.
After returning inside post-workout, hop in the shower right away to wash off any allergens you might have carried in with you, explains Craig. Also, throw your dirty clothes right into the wash so you don’t drag them around the house. Most importantly, make your bedroom allergen-free by washing sheets at least every two weeks and keeping the windows closed to block out germs. Getting a good night’s rest, sans coughing and sneezing, will help you get out of bed with energy, instead of starting the day fatigued.
8. Keep asthma in check.
For those with exercise-induced asthma, allergy symptoms can actually make breathing difficulties worse. Ward off the wheezing by staying well hydrated, and warming up and cooling down during every session.
For more information on allergies and tips for prevention, visit allergyandasthma.org.
Originally posted July 2014. Updated March 2015.