Running and Spring Allergies: Surprising Ways to Cope with the Change of Season
While the arrival of spring brings with it some long-awaited sunshine and warmth, it’s not all good news for seasonal allergy sufferers. Because while longer days and warmer temps may make it easier to head outside and run, itchy eyes and runny noses cause many affected athletes to stay indoors instead.
And if that sounds like you, take heart. Your spring allergies do not have to put a damper on your training. Here are some (rather surprising!) expert tips and tricks to help you cope with the change of season without sacrificing your performance or skimping on training.
The impact of allergies on running performance
But before we get to these tips, let’s just have a quick look at how allergy symptoms can impact on running. Unfortunately, the impact of allergies on athletic performance has not been studied extensively to date. It has, however, come to light that allergy symptoms can impact on the breathing ability of affected runners. In addition, allergy symptoms are also believed to decrease mental focus. Denise Wood, owner of Advanced Allergy Solutions, says that fatigue and emotional irritability can be a big stumbling block for sufferers as well. “It’s kind of like being sick, but it’s all the time”, she says.
Is it safe to run with allergy symptoms?
And while allergy symptoms can hardly be classified as an illness, Wood’s sentiment does bring the following question to mind: Is it safe to run with seasonal allergy symptoms? In short, the answer boils down to the same rule we use when deciding whether or not to run while sick. If your symptoms are only above your neck, including sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose, you should be fine to run. If, however, you have a fever or experience symptoms below the neck, sit out instead.
It’s also very important to note that there is one exception. “It wouldn’t be safe if it’s inducing asthma“, says Woods about running with allergy symptoms. And since allergies can, in some instances, increase the risk of exercise-induced asthma, it’s vital to keep this in mind if you’re affected. So if your spring runs lead to coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath in addition to general allergy symptoms, see your doctor ASAP.
Tips for dealing with allergy symptoms on the run
Once you’ve determined that it’s safe for you to run with your allergy symptoms, the following tips may make heading out more bearable:
- Take allergy medications. Inhalers and anti-histamines may bring some relief. Ideally, these should be taken two hours before running, and remember to ask your physician for a non-drowsy option.
- Decongestants may not be your best friend. According to family medicine physician, Dr. William O. Roberts, exercise and decongestants do not always go hand in hand. Decongestants may elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, trigger heart rhythm problems and interfere with heat balance – symptoms that you obviously want to avoid while running. Also, keep in mind that a number of these drugs include the banned substance pseudoephedrine. You don’t want to miss out on that podium position as a result of doping allegations…!
- Take over-the-counter meds. Over-the-counter nasal sprays and eye drops may bring some relief as well. Keep in mind that these are often more effective when taken before a run rather than after.
- Use natural remedies. If the thought of taking conventional allergy medications doesn’t appeal to you, natural anti-histamines may be worth a try. These substances, including quercetin and nettles, are available from most reputable health food stores. Note that natural remedies aren’t a quick fix. According to Dr. Leo Galland, co-author of The Allergy Solution, these supplements need to be taken regularly in order to benefit from their preventative effects.
- Cover up. Covering your face with a buff or surgical mask while running may lessen the amount of pollen you inhale. Which may, in turn, decrease the severity of your symptoms. Also be sure to protect your eyes with sunglasses.
- Nap. If you’ve ever wanted a valid excuse to take a nap after a hard run, here it is. According to Wood, a post-run nap may stop the allergy response, so there you go!
- Know your allergens. Keep a record of when and where your allergy flare-ups are worst. Note which trails and what types of trees or plants trigger a reaction. Alternatively, you can get tested by an allergist. The results of these tests will arm you with information that will enable you to know which routes and types of vegetation to avoid.
- And then time your runs well. If you know what you’re allergic to (i.e. specific plant species, as opposed to pollen in general), time your runs to coincide with times of day when those specific pollen counts are low (check out pollen.com for local counts). If you don’t know what specifically you’re allergic to, it’s worth noting that, in general, tree pollen counts tend to be highest from 08:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., with a spike around 10 a.m. These allergens are generally also worse in dry and windy weather, and less intense after rain or snow storms. (For mold allergies, the opposite is true. If you suffer from this you’ll want to avoid wet conditions.) So schedule your runs accordingly.
- Plan your route carefully. Some studies have found that pollution from vehicles can make allergies worse. So choose a route with little or no traffic when you head out. Also, time your runs to avoid peak traffic hours.
- Get rid of pollen. Because pollen stick to your skin, hair and (especially wet, sweaty) clothes, you carry it with you. So, in order to get rid of it, make sure that you launder your clothes often, ideally right after running. And remember to hang it inside to dry, if possible. Also keep your house clean and flush your nasal passages as needed to get rid of irritants. And even if you opt to exercise indoors, you may want to shower, wash your hair and change beforehand in order to get rid of the pollen and spores you carried with you from outside.
- Carefully manage stress. High-stress levels, combined with a lack of sleep and general poor health, makes allergies worse.
- Go easy on the sugar and alcohol. Both of these substances are known to trigger an inflammatory effect, so steer clear where possible.
- Be mindful of potential cross-reactions. According to Dr. Galland, certain foods may cross-react with certain allergies. Birch pollen allergies can, for example, cross-react with nuts, celery, carrots, raw apples and large-pit fruits. Ragweed and grass allergies can, on the other hand, react to citrus fruits, melons and bananas.
- Get desensitized. If your case is severe, discuss the option of desensitization with your physician. This treatment works on the basis that small amounts of specific pre-identified allergens are injected into your bloodstream on a regular basis in order to build up immunity against it.
Don’t sit out
So if your symptoms are above the neck and you’re not susceptible to exercise-induced asthma, don’t let your spring allergies keep you from running. Experiment with the tips above and find what works for you!
- How runners can combat spring allergies, Online publication, Apr 20, 2017 ,
- Why do my allergies get worse when running?, Online publication, Jun 22, 2017 ,
- How to cope with springtime allergies, Online publication, Apr 05, 2016 ,
- Coping with seasonal allergies, Online publication, May 05, 2015 ,
- How do I deal with allergies while running?, Online publication, Dec 12, 2013 ,
- Nothing to sneeze at, Online publication, May 15, 2012 ,
- A runner's guide to managing allergies, Online publication, May 02, 2017 ,
- 6 Things runners need to know about seasonal allergies, Online publication, May 16, 2014 ,