How to manage outdoor exercise when you have seasonal allergies

Couple riding mountain bikes together
7 tips to control allergies when exercisingSoren Svendsen – Getty Images

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Allergies vary from person to person, and sometimes it can be hard to know how your body will react to the change of season. As a potentially outdoorsy cyclist, it can also be challenging to prepare yourself for the road ahead when you don’t know if a stuffy nose will keep you from breathing well as the miles go by or if a bout of sneezing will temporarily stop your periods.

Further complicating matters: research It indicates that human-caused climate change has played a significant role in extending the pollen season by 20 days and increasing pollen levels. Therefore, experts say allergy season starts earlier, lasts longer, and ultimately is worse than it was before the 1990s. So if your allergies are making your riding more difficult right now, you’re probably not the only one looking for urgent relief.

Here, we spoke to experts to better understand how to deal with allergies, including how one affects the other, and what measures you should take while exercising to better control your allergy symptoms.

How does exercise affect sensitivity?

“We know that exercise supports a healthier immune system and that allergies are really an overactive immune system response,” says Dawn Zacharias, MD, FACAAI, chief medical officer at University Hospitals in Westlake, Ohio.

Studies have shown that exercise strengthens the immune system by boosting the activity of the watchdog, or when immune cells track the bloodstream, looking for infection.

“(A strong immune system) helps keep things from going off steam too quickly, when allergens are present. (Exercise) really improves the body’s defense mechanisms against allergens,” Zakaria adds.

A small study published in International journal of environmental and public health research In 2019, exercise supports desensitization benefits. Researchers found that a 10-day winter exercise program, consisting of hiking or snowshoeing runs three to four hours at a time, and four ski sessions throughout the day, helped reduce allergic airway inflammation in study participants with rhinitis. Allergic reactions (of which pollen can be a trigger) and asthma.

Specifically, the researchers noted that the participants had a significant decrease in airway inflammation after completing just one hike. However, the study only had 40 participants during a short period of the year (not in the spring!), so more research is needed to confirm how exercise can affect allergies year-round.

All of this is just a reason to keep up your cycling routine, as it can benefit your sensitivity. But there is another aspect to the relationship between exercise and allergies.

How does your sensitivity affect your workouts?

The first thing that happens while riding is that you “increase your ventilation, you increase your breathing, so by nature you’re going to breathe in more of what’s in the atmosphere. Then, when there’s pollen outside, you’re going to breathe in more pollen than you normally would,” said Robert. Zimpel, MD, chief of allergy and immunology at Lehigh Valley Health Network hostility world.

If you have seasonal allergies, you may be experiencing nasal congestion, says Zemble. This will eventually affect your breathing, which can hinder your cycling performance.

What’s more: While you’re riding, pollen can land on your face and skin, and stick to your hair, which can contribute to starting an allergic reaction and potentially disrupt your workout depending on the severity and duration of the allergy attack. The duration of your reaction will depend on the stage of the allergic response and the amount of exposure to the allergen.

The early stage — which lasts up to an hour — causes itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing symptoms caused by a chemical your body releases called histamine, Zakaria says. The second phase can last from minutes to hours after exposure and is driven by leukotriene — which your body releases after encountering an allergen — and other chemicals. Zakaria adds that this is why you may experience allergy symptoms for hours after you finish riding.

All of this has the potential to disrupt exercise, and according to one survey, published in 2019, it does for the majority of athletes with pollen allergies. The observational study was published in Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness, It found 43 percent of the 636 respondents who self-reported a pollen allergy, and of those with allergies, 80 percent reported poor performance.

How can you control allergy symptoms when exercising?

Experts offer these seven steps to reduce allergy symptoms while riding:

1. Take allergy medication

The best first step to controlling allergy symptoms is to start taking medication before the actual allergy season begins. That means talking to your doctor or an allergist to get an allergy test done, and then crafting a plan from there, says Zimpel. If needed, your doctor will provide you with a prescription to meet your specific needs.

Also, there are plenty of over-the-counter and other products you get at the drugstore to add to your cycling kit that will give you relief this season. For a long time, Benadryl has been a popular allergy medication, however, there are a plethora of non-drowsy medications cyclists can use, such as Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, and more to help manage allergy symptoms.

You can also consider using intranasal antihistamines (nasal sprays), such as Flonase, or oral decongestants such as Sudafed (which contains pseudoephedrine, which is a decongestant), says Zakaria. Keep in mind that pseudoephedrine, in particular, has known side effects like insomnia, decreased appetite, and more. Also, if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, or are a man who has trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate, you should avoid taking this drug, says Zakars.

Another hack to help you breathe through a stuffy nose: “You can increase the air opening in your nostril with a proper breathing tape or something similar, and this will help if you have any underlying congestion so you can maintain your performance,” Zakaria says.

2. Pay attention to the pollen count

The best time to ride outdoors, Zakaria says, is when the pollen count is low. For example, if you are driving after a rain, the air is much cleaner. She adds that if you drive early in the morning, the air is cleaner, too.

Check a pollen counter like the one hosted by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, or, before heading out to find out what levels are and whether you should do the day’s workout indoors.

Also when pollen counts are high, don’t exercise near heavily crowded roads, as pollution can have an additive effect on pollen-induced symptoms, says Nathanael Horne, MD, an allergist at NYU Langone Health. hostility world.

Finally, if you’re traveling for a race and plan to arrive more than two days early, check pollen levels and prep your body with medication, Zakaria suggests.

3. Change your clothes after riding outside

Airborne pollen and mold can travel many miles from its original source on your clothes and shoes to your car, couch, and even your pets. So, after riding or coming in from outside, change into clothes and take a shower to remove sticky pollen, says Horn.

This could also be a great time to wash your nose with normal saline — a mixture of water and salt that you can buy over the counter, says Zakaria.

4. Take extra precautions around the house

Zakaria suggests using a HEPA air purifier to clean the air around your home throughout the day, especially if you have a dog, as they can also track pollen inside.

An air purifier can also help at night, Zakaria says, as well as sleeping with windows closed, because pollen can be blown in from outside and contribute to crowding and infections. Your body is most susceptible to inflammation between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when cortisol levels—a hormone known to control stress but also involved in fighting inflammation—are especially low, she explains.

5. Consider a whole generic approach to allergy management

You can take a whole-body approach to managing your allergy symptoms by making a year-round effort to live a well-balanced life, not just focusing on short-term ways to treat your allergy symptoms during the warmer months.

“Make sure you’re sleeping an appropriate amount of time (at least seven hours) because allergies put a strain on your body, so you want to make sure you compensate (your body) by getting good sleep,” Zakaria says.

Also focus on eating a healthy diet that includes lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and anti-inflammatory foods, as all of these can help you build a stronger immune system that helps keep allergies in check.

Furthermore, you may want to visit your local farmer’s market to purchase raw and unprocessed honey from your area. “There have been some studies that have shown that (honey) reduces your reactivity during the season. So (we usually recommend) a tablespoon of honey per day and you want to start that about a month before allergy season,” says Zakaria.

6. Work with your healthcare provider to find a solution

When it comes to tackling allergy season, remember that your symptoms may vary from day to day, just like the demands of training. As mentioned earlier, the first step is to work with the service provider to determine an appropriate plan of attack.

You may find that you need to bypass the above steps to get your symptoms under control. In that case, you’d definitely want to reach out to a doctor who can determine next steps, such as retraining your immune system or desensitizing yourself to what you’re allergic to through allergen immunotherapy injections or specific grass pollen tablets, says Zemble.

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