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A Guide to Running with Allergies

May 14, 2014
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Spring means different things to different people. For runners, it means lacing up those sneakers and hitting the road, possibly for the first time after months of feeling trapped on gym treadmills. For people with seasonal allergies, however, it can mean a frustrating couple months’ worth of sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. A runner with allergies needn’t necessarily stay inside, though. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just looking to improve your overall health, there are a few measures you can take to combat allergies that may just make all the difference.


Know Your Allergen Tolerance

The best way to control your allergies is to understand your triggers before going for a run. If you already know what you’re allergic to, you’re a step ahead of the game. If not, you could always go to an allergist and get tested to know for sure. That said, most seasonal allergies are mild enough that a specialist isn’t necessary. In that case, you’ll want to pay attention to how you feel during and after your runs. Is it pollen, pollution or mold that irritates you most? Is there a specific location that seems to cause more flare-ups than others? Did a windy day shut your run down completely?

When you do make it outside for a run and find yourself bothered by allergies, take note of when and where you ran, what the weather was like, and air quality measures. Try keeping a log, and note your local hazard levels using free websites like and Soon, you’ll start to notice patterns and can use appropriate avoidance steps. This makes air quality measures especially relevant: Once you know the pollen or particulate levels that irritate your allergies, you can narrow it down to a threshold number. Once this is in place, you can check levels before a run to know what kind of reactions you’ll incur.


Plan Around Pollen

For an allergy sufferer, being able to run outside in the spring hinges on staying flexible from one day to the next. This will be easier once you know your individual pollen tolerance, or at least an estimation of it, but that’s only part of the planning. For starters, pollen counts are usually highest in the morning between 5 and 10 a.m., and then again at dusk. If you usually run during these times and are having allergy flare-ups, see if you can switch up your schedule and try for a lunch hour or after-work session instead.

Weather also plays a big part in allergies, and if you live in an unstable climate, you know planning your week by the forecast isn’t always doable. Avoid going out on dry, warm and windy days – all of which can aggravate allergies. Conversely, wet weather cleanses air of pollen so if you don’t have mold allergies, try running just after rain or during humid weather.


Take Appropriate Medication and Measures

Usually the best time to take allergy medications is prophylactically, before you go out. If you are prescribed or instructed to take a regular medication for your allergies, make sure you are compliant with instructions. On the other hand, if you usually take an antihistamine only when symptoms flare up, try taking it 2 to 3 hours before you go outside. If you have allergic asthma and have an inhaler, use it about 15 minutes before you hit the pavement. Allergies and asthma are closely related, so you may want to take your asthma inhaler with you on your runs during allergy season.

If your only option is to run during high-pollen times, there are additional measures you can take. If you’re up for it, wear a mask or bandanna over your nose and mouth to keep particulates out while you run – this is also helpful if pollution bothers you, so consider it on heavy smog days as well. When you’ve finished your run, use a saline nasal spray or salt water to remove pollen from your nose and nasal cavities.


Keep it Clean

In addition to removing pollen from your nasal cavities, you should remove it from your skin, hair and clothes as well. This means washing your running attire after every use, whether you’re accustomed to doing so or not. Additionally, you should shower after each run to prevent allergies from flaring up later. Make sure you wash your hair, too. Even if you shower without shampooing, you’re still leaving behind lots of pollen because it is specifically attracted to the protein molecules in hair.


This article was originally published on U.S. News.

Trail runners photo courtesy of Shutterstock.