Spring brings amazing running temperatures, color, and joy to our outdoor runs. But, does anyone welcome the runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing? Heck no! Seasonal allergies can make running a challenge! I recall the night before the Flying Pig Marathon where I had TERRIBLE coughing fits. I paid a visit to my doctor shortly after the race, and was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. Now I manage my seasonal allergies much more carefully with running.
How Seasonal Allergies Affect Your Running
Seasonal allergies from exposure to airborne substances (like pollen) appear during certain times of the year. The time of year depends on location, but there’s some predictability: spring for trees, summer for grasses and some weeds, and fall for Ragweed.
With allergies, the passages of your nose and sinuses swell because they’re trying to flush out “allergens” you encounter while running. Some common symptoms:
- eye irritation (itchy or watery)
- post-nasal drip (which can lead to scratchy/sore throat)
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
- Runner’s itch: skin itchiness during a run
Poorly managed allergies can lead to sickness like sinusitis (a sinus infection) that sidelines your running routine. Plus, those with allergies are more likely to have sinus problems (sinus pressure/headaches, etc.). And, allergies and asthma are closely related, so bringing your asthma inhaler on your runs during allergy season is a good option (best to use 15 minutes before you start).
To ensure your running is not derailed with seasonal allergies, use the tips below.
Protection DURING your run:
- Wear a HAT. Not only does it shield your eyes, but your hair attracts airborne particles. And, if you wear hair spray/gel, those are downright magnetic and have a death grip on pollen. May be best to use hats that you can throw in the wash occasionally. (Note, a bandana over your mouth and nose is also a great way to keep out allergens.)
- Wear SUNGLASSES. Sunglasses of course are great for UV protection, but allergens can seriously impact your eyes as well. The wrap-around style will give the most protection, but frankly, any pair is better than none. I’m a personal fan of Goodr’s sunglasses as they’re inexpensive, lightweight, and don’t bounce while running.
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Protection AFTER your run:
- Change your clothes and shower.
David Erstein, M.D., a NY-based allergist and immunologist states, “Get out of those workout clothes ASAP and shower as soon as you get home. Pollens can stick to you, and changing and showering will minimize residual and continuous exposure.” Note, that includes washing your hair!
Timing Your Runs, When Possible
- Avoid the higher peak levels of pollen/irritants – which is typically 5-10 a.m., and at dusk. Possibly, you can go for a run at lunch, or shortly after work before dusk hits.
- Enjoy the rain, or shortly thereafter.
Take a run in the rain, or just after, when you can benefit from some of the irritants being literally washed away.
- Windy days will make you more winded.
Seriously, more pollen/dust/irritants are kicked up on windy days, so avoid if at all possible.
- Check your local pollen counts at sites such as pollen.com, plus keep track of when you experience allergy symptoms. This will help you know what level is tolerable for you.
More Tips for Running with Allergies
Opt for the treadmill
I personally am not a treadmill fan, but if my allergies are really acting up, or the pollen count is sky high (not unusual for Atlanta), I am running on the treadmill. Or, if a seriously challenging workout is on the books, I may plan to treadmill it as well.
Saline Spray: Natural Allergy Relief
I’m a HUGE fan of saline spray. It is non-medicinal, and is very effective at removing pollen and irritants from your nasal lining. Timing can vary, but some recommend later in the day/after a run to remove the irritants. My go to favorite is Simply Saline, but other options (even homemade) are available.
Medications to provide relief.
If, unlike me, you can manage your allergies while running without medication, great! If you need a boost, some over-the-counter reco’s are below; generic is available for all mentioned brands. (Obviously, I’m not a doctor; talk with your doctor about how to best manage your symptoms.)
- A antihistamine: an oral pill such as Zyrtec or Xyzal, which can help manage both seasonal allergies, plus other allergies (ie: mold). Timing: given how these meds’ efficacy peaks, taking them at dinner time or before bed better best controls daytime symptoms.
- A corticosteroid nasal spray such as Flonase is a good option. Note, a recent study states that using an antihistamine with a corticosteroid nasal spray was most effective for the study’s participants in managing their symptoms.
WebMD recommends taking medication a few weeks before allergy season begins. Pollen seasons are fairly predictable, says Hugh H. Windom, MD, associate clinical professor of immunology at the University of South Florida. “The sooner you get on your medicine, the better,” he says.
- Eye drops can provide relief for itchy, watery eyes. Options are artificial tears drops, or an antihistamine eye drop like Pataday (once in the morning), or Zaditor (twice daily). Dr. Julie Poteet, OD at TrueVision recommends Pataday, and it was recently approved for an OTC version.
When should you skip running with seasonal allergies?
During allergy season, avoid running when you’re rundown or sick; “a lowered and overworked immune system can make you more sensitive to allergens that may not have otherwise bothered you,” says David Erstein.
What other tips have you tried successfully to manage your seasonal allergies with running? I’d love to know!