According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), 1 in 5 people have allergies of some form. There are many different types — ranging from food allergies to drug allergies — but the most talked about is seasonal allergies. They’re so common your local meteorologist often ends a broadcast with the day’s pollen counts.
If you’re particularly susceptible to seasonal allergies, and the sniffles, sneezes and stuffiness is slowing you down on the run, we have good news for you: You don’t have to hide indoors on the treadmill during allergy season.
UNDERSTANDING ALLERGY SEASON
The truth is, there is no one allergy season as we may have been led to believe. However, based on where in the country you live, you may be prone to allergies at certain points during the year. This, of course, depends what is blooming and can be exacerbated by certain weather conditions.
“Allergies can occur anytime of year depending on each person’s sensitivity profile,” confirms Dr. Rafiq Rahimi of Allergy Relief Clinics. “In the northern states, spring is commonly associated with allergies as trees and grasses are pollinating and coming out of the winter freeze. In the south there tends to be less freezing, therefore different plants continue to blossom year round.”
The ACAAI also notes that in most parts of the United States spring is the most common time for seasonal allergies, though “more than 2/3 of spring allergy sufferers actually have year-round symptoms.”
ALLERGY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
There are, of course, some telltale signs of allergies that you are familiar with, including a runny nose and itchy eyes. Many people will experience nasal congestion and when your sinuses drip into your throat it can cause throat and ear issues, as well. Besides these common symptoms, there are also a few more severe reactions.
“More severe is that allergies may make your lungs wheeze; you’ll feel chest tightness, difficulty breathing [and experience] coughing,” shares Dr. Hetu Parekh of Austin Family Allergy and Asthma. “You may already have been diagnosed with asthma and know that allergies are one of your triggers — 80% of asthmatics have allergic triggers — or you may be experiencing these symptoms for the first time this spring pollen season and be developing asthma.”
Should you experience asthmatic symptoms, visit a doctor for a diagnosis. As for more severe reaction — such as anaphylaxis, which causes constriction of the airway — Dr. Rahimi notes pollen does not usually trigger this severe of an allergic reaction and most people simply experience symptoms in their sinuses and lungs.
HOW RUNNERS CAN HANDLE ALLERGIES
Even before you are experiencing allergy symptoms, it is best to treat your allergies by identifying what it is you are allergic to. By visiting an allergist you can get an allergy test and be better prepared for specific seasons that can trigger symptoms.
“Treatment involves anticipation,” explains Dr. Parekh. “If you don’t have allergies in spring but have experienced symptoms in summer or fall, [it is] better to get checked now and know in advance of the season.”
There are both short- and long-term treatment options and often it is easiest to start by taking over-the-counter medication, including either allergy pills or nasal sprays. Dr. Parekh suggests starting with the nasal steroid sprays as they have minimal-to-no side effects and are less likely to affect your run than oral antihistamines.
“Antihistamines, which are a mainstay in allergy treatment, most commonly cause sedation; this can potentially be a problem for those runners who are sensitive to this class of medications,” agrees Dr. Rahimi. “Nasal steroid sprays may be a better option for those who are sensitive to the sedative effects of oral antihistamines such as cetirizine and loratadine.”
Should those not provide enough relief, both doctors recommend seeing an allergist for a more targeted approach. This includes allergy shots or drops, which reduce symptoms over time and can even help them disappear completely.
Even without a trip to the allergist you don’t have to avoid the great outdoors when running; Dr. Rahimi urges you to be sure to change your clothes and shower after you get inside in order to clear away any pollen you may have collected during your run. Combined with preventative medication, you can greatly diminish your sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes.
“To have a healthy nose and lungs year round, it is best first to know what you’re allergic to [and to] use proper medications to control the symptoms,” he concludes. “Consider allergy immunotherapy to reverse the behavior of the immune system so the sensitivity pattern of your allergens will change and you will become more tolerant to your environment. Utilizing the short-term and long-term solutions will lead to healthier and more productive running.”