Wheeze, sniff, atichoo…snot rocket.
Just when the joy of putting winter running behind you arrives, so does the dreaded allergy season that can irritate even the happiest Spring runner.
A running nose, watery eyes and runners itch can make for a terrible run any time, but during allergy season we often have all three at once combined with difficulty breathing!
You’ve never had asthma and now suddenly, you’re struggling to find the air, having fatigue and you don’t even know that all the pollen in the air is to blame, not your training. If you’re doing everything right with training and recovery, but suddenly feeling more fatigue and headaches it might be time to consider allergies.
A number of studies have shown that we can develop or lose allergies roughly every seven years because of the cycle our bodies go through eliminating and growing new cells.
After years of my own running through pollen itchy skin and sneeze fests, I’ve learned a few tricks for running with allergies.
First let’s cover a few of the most common questions:
Is there a best time to run with allergies?
While in some cases it depends on what’s causing your symptoms for the most part the answer is no. Pollen count is thought to be highest early in the morning, while poor air quality is highest in the afternoon. Avoiding those peak times could lessen your symptoms, but often not by much.
Does running make allergies worse?
No. But because you’ve warmed up your skin or exposed yourself for a longer time to the allergen, your symptoms might become more noticeable. I.e. my skin only starts itching during a long spring training run where I haven’t taken an allergy meds because I’ve increased blood flow, my skin is warm and interacting with the allergen.
The one exception here is if you truly have exercise induced asthma, which is not an allergy but we often confuse it with one. The difference is you’ll have it year round and to far more intense level that most runners notice issues with breathing from allergens.
What causes runners itch?
Because this can be seen as an allergic reaction, we’re covering it here.This uncomfortable situation happens to some runners all the time and other specifically during high pollen and ragweed seasons, as their sweaty skin mingles with particles in the air and creates a reaction.
For others, it’s thought that the body releases histamine to expand blood vessels to slow down fatigue, but that can also result in the itchy feel. The following allergy tips will help, along with continuing to improve your endurance.
Now onward with the tips!
15 Tips for Running with Allergies
1. Use medicine correctly
The obvious first solution if you’re having a lot of symptoms is to try an over the counter solution like Allegra or Claritin. However, as I can attest, this alone may not be enough to make your runs great during the high pollen season. What it will do is mitigate symptoms, meaning less sneezing, snot rockets, coughing, itching and headaches while you run.
**NOTE: After trial and error, I’ve found it’s best to take medicine AFTER your run. Experience and studies I’ve found show it can hinder breathing during the workout.
Additionally, you don’t want to use a nasal spray to open your passages and allow in more.
2. Go local with honey
A long time home remedy for helping with a sore throat, a teaspoon of LOCAL honey is also great for curbing allergy symptoms. Consider it your pre-run gel or combine it with your PB and bread before heading out the door.
The theory is that because bees that jump from one flower to the next end up covered in pollen spores, which are then transferred to their honey, it acts like a natural vaccine. This may not be true, but honey is anti-bacterial which can cut down on sniffles and make it easier to breathe while running.
3. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods
Foods that decrease inflammation can help reduce allergic reactions! I’ve written so much on this I won’t bore you by repeating it, just go read that post!
A few great options: apples, broccoli, kale, citrus fruits, spinach, turmeric, garlic, chia and avocado. In essence, you want to do everything you can to help your body feel good so you can fight off allergies.
4. Improve your hat game
Not only does a hat keep particles out of your eyes, but also from catching in your hair.
Hair gels and sprays act like a magnet holding on to pollen from the air, which means even after you return inside the allergens are with you. It honestly doesn’t matter what kind of hat you wear, though I’m partial to anything dri-fit that I can toss in the washer to get off the ragweed as well vs some of the trucker hats that I worry about a bit more.
5. Disrobe quickly
If you have neighbors, you might wait til you hit the bathroom . Otherwise, start making a habit of removing shoes and stripping off layers immediately when coming in from a run.
It’s easy to spread allergens throughout the house via shoes or clothing as you sit on any surface.Great tricks for running outside with allergies! #spring Click To Tweet
6. Shower before bed
Be sure to shower before changing in to fresh clothes post run or before laying down at night (especially if you’ve been back outside since your run).
The goal is both to clear off your skin and to ensure you don’t transfer any allergens to your pillow, which will result in waking up more dog tired than bright eyed and bushy tailed.Pillows from Gone for a Run
7. Use sunglasses
I’ve harped on wearing athletic sunglasses for UV protection and to keep your face relaxed (result less energy expended), but during allergy season they have the added benefit of keeping all the flying debris in the air out of your eyes.
You can wear any old pair that you like, but here are my top sunglasses for runners because of the way that they not only fit, but treat your eyes. They are more expensive because they don’t distort your vision which happens with most sunglasses and results in headaches.
8. Try eye drops
For consistently itchy eyes, use eye drops before you head out and as soon as you get home to keep them washed out and moisturized. Most of the time if you are taking an over the counter allergy medicine, you don’t need anything extra in your eye drops. Just the basic brand will do.
The summer I worked in Atlanta, we thought I had pink eye for over a month! One little normal eye drop and everything cleared up revealing that my only real issue was the magnolia trees!
9. Embrace the essential oils trend
I know these might seem like a total fad, but I think there’s something to it, hence my recent purchase of a diffuser and increased stock of a variety of oils.
According to studies the most beneficial are:
You could dab some on your wrist or just below your nose before running for a heavy effect or use the diffuser throughout the day to consistently open up your airways. Most are also good for just boosting total immunity. (Here are 5 essential oils that are great for athletes.)
10. Consider chiropractic care
This one might surprise some folks, but I’ve definitely seen it work for myself and others!
Here’s a little science to say why
“The strength of both the immune and respiratory systems depends largely on proper communication between the brain and spinal cord to control and coordinate their functions properly….adjustments may also help regulate the rush of histamine and amount of cortisol produced during high allergy season.“
In other words, when you’re out of alignment, which happens due to the pounding of running and our sitting culture, your body has to work harder to keep your immune system working.
11. Learn proper breathing
Are you a mouth breather when you run?
Allergy season is your chance to get better at breathing! In through the nose, out through the mouth is optimal because it allows the nose to filter the air. Read the link above for more tips on optimizing your breathing year round.
12. Avoid lotion
It puts the lotion in the basket… sorry that’s really all I can think of every single time I hear that word. And if you don’t know the movie reference, I’m sorry.
A light layer of lotion may cause you to sweat more, but provides a light barrier. As your warm sweaty skin mixes with allergens that results in the painful itch that can sideline you mid-run.
13. Enjoy the spring rains
Running right after or even during a rain shower means cleaner air!
The dust, pollen and ragweed. is knocked down and can make for easier breathing. It could also help to find out what time of day your allergen is highest and if possible adjust your runs.
14. Extend your warm-up
Give the lungs time to open up through first your dynamic warm up and then adjust by stopping after the first 1/2-1 mile of running to walk or stretch, then you should be able to continue the run much more comfortably.
This one seems strange, but I’ve tested it out myself and with other runners. After doing a normal warm up and then beginning their run if they’re having trouble catching their breath, they stop after a half mile or so and walk for a few minutes. Usually when they restart everything feels better.
15. Revisit the trusty treadmill
If all else fails, it’s time to embrace the technology age and jump on the treadmill! You’re still going to get in a fantastic workout and if you happen to finish without feeling completely gutted from not being able to breathe, then it’s a major win!!
Here are my top tips for surviving long runs on the treadmill.
While you could opt for a running mask while dealing with allergies, I’ve heard many people say it just left them feeling a little claustrophobic or they felt too silly. So do what works for you!
Can you do a snot rocket?! (I fail miserably)
Do allergies disrupt your running?
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