When summer is around the corner, with it comes seasonal allergies. If you struggle with allergies, a runny or stuffy nose can affect your running performance.
If allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is how your allergies show up, the movement of running could possibly make it worse.
On the other hand, a blocked nose can make it harder to breathe. And breathing is pretty important for a good running performance!
Have you been wondering how to keep running with seasonal allergies without feeling miserable?
The good news is that allergies don’t have to put a stop to your running, or even make your runs less enjoyable.
Here are some tips and tricks for running at your best in allergy season!
Why Is It Important for Runners to Manage Allergies?
Of course, nobody wants to be man-down with allergies. They’re uncomfortable, annoying, and can make you feel much sicker than you really are.
If you don’t manage your allergies adequately, you may find yourself doing more of your training on the treadmill than on the road or trail. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s always best to train in real-world conditions and get some fresh air!
Even worse, your allergies have the potential to make you feel so bad that you don’t even get to your training! If you wake up feeling congested, it’s tempting to just go right back to bed.
Managing your allergies not only ensures that you can keep running, but it just makes you feel better and more energetic overall (even if you aren’t running).
Common Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies have a range of annoying symptoms. These can sometimes be mistaken for a cold or the flu. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Otherwise known as a blocked nose! This can go a long way towards making you feel exhausted and grumpy. Nasal congestion can make breathing more difficult, which means it’s harder for you to run at your best.
In some cases, running can actually ease nasal congestion. But, if the cause of your allergies is right out there in the air (ie. pollen), then it’s likely to make the congestion worse.
On the other end of the spectrum is a runny nose, also known as allergic rhinitis. This is arguably worse than congestion! It may not necessarily affect your breathing, but you may be stopping whatever you’re doing every few minutes to blow your nose.
Running can also have two opposite effects on a runny nose. Sometimes, it can help to dry up the nose a little. But there’s also a chance of it getting worse, as pollen in the air may aggravate it.
A scratchy or sore throat is a by-product of nasal congestion or a runny nose. The fluid in the sinuses tends to run down the back of the throat (known as a nasal drip), and irritates the throat, causing scratchiness or tickling.
Eye irritation is another common sign of seasonal allergies. The eyes are sensitive to external stimuli, and pollen can cause them to itch, tear up, or swell.
How Do You Know If It’s Safe to Run With Allergies?
It can be hard to tell if your allergies are truly allergies or a cold or flu. If your symptoms are all above the neck, such as a runny or blocked nose, you should be quite okay to run safely.
Of course, while it’s safe to run in this case, it may not be comfortable! You’ll need to experiment a little and find out what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms below the neck, it could be a sign of something worse than just allergies. Wheezing when breathing, tightness in the chest, stomach aches or an upset stomach, or body aches should be taken seriously!
In these cases, it’s best to avoid running and take a quick visit to the doctor instead. Some small lifestyle changes, adjustments to your training plan, and finding the right allergy medication for you can make all the difference to managing your allergies.
Tips to Deal with Allergies While Running Outside
Plan Your Runs When Pollen Counts Are Low
You may be wondering how the heck you can tell when pollen counts are low. Well, that’s what the internet is for! Check out pollen.com for a minefield of info on regional pollen count, allergy prevention, and other health advice.
It may be a good idea to learn a little about the common pollen or plants in your area. For example, ragweed can be a big allergy problem in late summer and fall, and it’s at its highest level early in the mornings.
Armed with this kind of knowledge, you can time your runs to perfection so you can avoid the worst pollen-heavy times.
Run After a Rain Shower
Rain helps to settle the pollen that would otherwise be floating around in the air. You don’t need to drop what you’re doing and go for a run immediately after the rain ends!
The humidity that comes after rain can keep pollen counts lower than usual for a few days. With that in mind, it could be ideal to go for a few runs in the days following a rain shower.
Protect Your Eyes
If your allergies cause eye irritation, eye protection is a necessity. Eye drops can help keep your eyes moist and wash away allergens.
It’s also a great idea to invest in a pair of wraparound sunglasses. These offer the best coverage, so your eyes will be protected from all angles.
Take Your Meds
Allergy meds can be a lifesaver. It’s a good idea to visit your doctor and find a medication that works for you. Be aware that some meds make you drowsy and others can have undesirable side effects, like nausea.
You may need to experiment with a few different allergy meds to find one that really works for you. If your allergies are severe, your doc may recommend daily medication. Otherwise, you can simply take one when you feel that you need it.
Know Your Personal Pollen Count
Don’t worry, this isn’t something you need to calculate. It’s all about being observant!
If you have the time and inclination, we recommend keeping an allergy diary. You only need to do it for a month or so until you figure out how your body responds to different pollen counts.
Notice what the pollen count is when you first begin showing symptoms. This is your personal pollen count! Knowing this can make a difference in the future.
If the pollen count on a particular day is lower than your PPC, you know you can run without the risk of aggravating your sinuses.
If the count is higher than your number, you’ve got a choice to make! Stick to the treadmill for your run on that day, or take your allergy meds and hit the road/trail/track!
Avoid Running on Windy Days
The more wind there is on a day, the more pollen there’s likely to be floating around in the air. It may be best to run on the treadmill on these days. You could take your meds and go for a run anyway, but wind is unpredictable!
Not only does it increase the amount of pollen in the air, but the wind could also dry your nose out (and worsen congestion) or make a runny nose worse.
Cover Your Nose and Mouth
If you prefer being outside to running on a treadmill, there may be an easy solution. Covering your mouth and nose with a balaclava, neck gaiter, or face mask could help you avoid breathing in pollen.
Some runners may not like running with your face covered. But if you can handle it, it could be an easier way to keep your regular running schedule and avoid the dreaded pollen.
Clean Up Right Away
When you finish your run, get into the shower as soon as you can. If you can, try to wash your laundry immediately, or at least place it out of the way, in the washing machine.
This helps to remove any trace of pollen that you may have brought in with you. If you sit around in the same clothes without cleaning up, you may inadvertently aggravate your allergies by literally carrying your allergen around with you!
Talk To An Allergist
If your allergies are severe and affect your daily life, it’s worth making an appointment with an allergist. They can help you to formulate a treatment or management plan for your allergies to keep them under better control.
You’ll have to give the allergist a comprehensive family history, as well as your own medical history. The allergist will examine your lungs, nose, throat, and skin for signs of allergies. They may do more tests if they feel it’s necessary.
Based on their findings and your test results, the allergist will recommend a course of action. This may include prescription medication (either daily or as needed), allergy injections (usually an annual or bi-annual shot), or lifestyle changes (if related to your allergies).