Not slowing down: Don’t let hay fever deter your workouts

Melissa Erickson More Content Now

Exercise is supposed to make a person feel good, but if seasonal allergies are shutting down your workout, you may be feeling itchy, watery eyes and a stuffy or runny nose rather than a rush of endorphins.

For people who suffer from what’s more commonly called hay fever, life can be miserable come late summer and fall.

Ragweed, the most significant of all allergens, afflicts about 50 million Americans and seems to be on the increase, affecting about 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children. Of Americans who are allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed, and if you’re allergic to one type of pollen you have a tendency to develop allergies to other pollens as well, said Dr. Michael Foggs, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Depending on where you live, it may be almost impossible to escape allergy season. For people in the Eastern and Midwestern states, ragweed season is starting soon.

“In some places like Southern California or Florida, allergy season never really ends,” Foggs said.

Heading west of the Rocky Mountains may provide some relief, but if moving is not an option, Foggs offers the following suggestions to allergy-proof your workout:

Get tested

If being outdoors brings on allergy symptoms (sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, watery eyes and itching of the nose, eyes or the roof of the mouth), get skin tested by a board-certified allergist. “If you don’t get tested, you’re flying by the seat of your pants and just guessing what you might be allergic to,” Foggs said. You may start treatment at the incorrect time or be misled about what you’re actually allergic to. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he added. Find a doctor by visiting acaai.org.

Track the count

Pay attention to the pollen count in your area and avoid exercising outside if it’s high. The local news often reports the count, especially when pollen is high. You also can call the National Allergy Bureau at 800-9-POLLEN or find your local pollen count through the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s national Allergy Bureau, pollen.aaaai.org

Time it right

Avoid exercising at times when the pollen count is highest, typically between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., Foggs said, “but it really depends on weather patterns.” Pollen tends to be lower on cloudy days and after rainfall. Warm, dry mornings and days that are dry and windy have higher pollen counts. “The best time to exercise is after a heavy rainfall. The water precipitates the pollen and it is beaten into the ground,” Foggs said.

Use common sense

Run on a track rather than a green field. Don’t exercise in areas with high pollution or chemicals, or near heavy traffic areas. “Air pollution has a potentiating effect” to aggravate allergic symptoms, Foggs said.

Cover up

If your eyes are bothered, wear sunglasses, a face mask or goggles to protect against pollen and pollution. Wearing a hat can prevent pollen from adhering to your hair.

Post-workout clean up

Have a new set of clothes ready when you get home. Remove your workout gear and keep it outside until you can wash it. Take a shower and wash your hair to remove any allergens. Rinse your nose with saline spray or water.

Take your medicine

Over-the-counter antihistamines work well to control hay fever symptoms, but beware of those that may cause drowsiness. If your allergies are severe, consider allergy shots. While the course of treatment may take as long as three to five years, Foggs said, “allergy shots are the only treatment with the ability to make allergies permanently disappear.”