A Runner’s Guide To Dealing With Seasonal Allergies

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Trying to go for a run outside when your allergies are in full swing is more like attempting to run underwater while simultaneously being tickled with a thousand feathers. It's harder to breathe, you want to itch your eyes out, and you feel like all your energy has been zapped. Perhaps the cruelest part about allergy season is that it comes right as many runners are transitioning from the treadmill to running outside.
Typically, people with allergies are advised to limit their outdoor activity, especially during times of high pollen count, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. But that doesn't mean you have to stay sequestered on the elliptical or indoor track all spring and summer. There are a few simple steps you can take to minimize your miserable allergy symptoms while you're on an outdoor run.
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For starters, you have to dress for the conditions. Lots of runners wear sunglasses, hats, buffs, or even face masks to help protect their eyes and noses from pollen. If you can, it's also wise to schedule your runs around the pollen count: it tends to be highest from five to nine a.m., so an evening run might be your best bet. And, as always during a workout, it's important to stay hydrated to keep your mucus thin, and bring some tissues just in case the sleeve of your running jacket doesn't cut it.
Beyond wearing protective clothing to literally guard yourself from pollen, there are some allergy medications that might help fend off symptoms. If you have trouble breathing because your nose feels stuffy, for example, using a steroidal nasal spray ahead of time, such as Flonase or Nasacort, can be very helpful, explains Christopher Chang, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist in Warrenton, VA. "Such nasal sprays minimize nasal congestion and blockage," because they're applied directly into the nose to reduce nasal passage swelling, he says. Plus, they tend to have minimal side effects.
To that point, many allergy sufferers might balk at taking an antihistamine medication before a run, such as Zyrtec or Benadryl, because they tend to make you feel very drowsy. But if you're someone whose allergy symptoms extend "beyond the nose," such as a skin rash, then you would benefit from an oral antihistamine, such as Allegra, before your run, Dr. Chang says. If you've never taken allergy medications before, it's a good idea to check with your doctor or healthcare provider first.
From there, your post-run routine is as important as the preparation. "When back home, take a shower immediately for good measure," Dr. Chang says. That'll help get any pollen or debris off of your face, skin, and eyelashes. Using a neti pot with a saline solution can also help flush anything out of your nose that would continue causing problems, he adds. Finally, if you're having trouble falling asleep after an evening run because of allergy symptoms, you may want to take Benadryl, he says.
While allergies can be hellish, and interfere with all aspects of your life, there are ways to make exercising outside bearable. And hey, you could always consider swimming in an indoor pool if you really can't stand the outdoors.
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