How to Exercise if You Have Seasonal Allergies

Pollen season is here, but there's no need to stay inside if you have allergies and asthma. Just buy a neti pot and lace up your running shoes.

May 17, 2010

Exercise in the morning or evening to avoid high pollen counts.

When you're suffering from seasonal allergies, it always feels like the worst allergy season on record, and for asthma and allergy sufferers, that means months of misery.


At the same time, spring temperatures are perfect for sitting outdoors reading, gardening, and, of course, exercising. Along with other benefits, getting in shape can help you get through allergy season. "The more exercise you get and the better condition you're in, the less likely you are to develop asthma," says Timothy Craig, DO, professor of medicine and pediatrics at Penn State University College of Medicine. And staying active keeps you healthy, which helps your body cope with allergens.

Don't be tempted to give up your morning run because of high pollen levels. Just take a few precautions before you lace up your shoes:

#1: Run early…or late. There's a lot of conflicting information about when pollen levels are at their worst, says Dr. Craig. But what people do seem to agree on is that pollen is more irritating to exercisers when it's dry and windy, which is most likely in the midafternoon. It tends to be damper outside early in the morning and in the evenings, he adds, and that helps keep pollen out of the air, making those times of day more pleasant for a workout.

#2: Don sunglasses. "There's no scientific literature saying that sunglasses will help," he says, "but dryness and wind are irritating [to your eyes], and pollen is somewhat rebounded off glasses." He adds that masks will help too, but if you're engaging in high-intensity exercise, you might not get adequate ventilation when wearing them. N-95 dust masks prevent you from inhaling the most particulates; if you suffer from bad allergies, give one a shot during your next workout, but stop using it if you find you're having a hard time breathing.

#3: Shower immediately, and clean your nose, too. "Showering when you come in after a workout is better than wearing a mask," Dr. Craig says. It removes pollen from your hair and skin that you could continue inhaling. And don't stop with a regular shower. "A high-volume saline rinse or neti pot is great," he says, for cleaning pollen out of your nose, "and it's good idea to do it after exercise and right before you go to bed." You can make your own nasal rinse by adding ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon baking soda to eight ounces of comfortably warm tap water. If you buy a rinse at the pharmacy, find one that's labeled isotonic (it has the same concentrations of salt as bodily fluids) rather than hypertonic (which has more salt than your body does), Dr. Craig advises. Hypertonic rinses can damage nasal membranes. Finally, over-the-counter eye drops can keep irritated eyes from becoming too dry. Look for the kind labeled "artificial tears," not the kind meant to relieve red eyes or itchiness.

#4: Rest after your allergy shot. It's very important to wait a few hours after getting an allergy shot before you start to exercise. "There are people who have an increased risk of anaphylaxis if they run right after they get their allergy shot," Dr. Craig says. If you're just taking allergy medications or over-the-counter remedies, the risk isn't as severe. But Dr. Craig does suggest that people avoid exercising after taking any kind of antihistamine that could make them tired, as the combination just puts added strain on your body.

#5: Try swimming. If all these efforts are still leaving you bleary-eyed and congested, consider awater-based workout. "Swimming is good because you get that high humidity, which is better for you if you have asthma," Dr. Craig says. It is true that elite swimmers can suffer from swimming-induced asthma, as a result of being exposed to chlorine disinfection by-products, but he says that usually occurs only in elite athletes, not for the average exerciser who wants to swim a few laps.

For even more all-natural ways to fight allergies, check out the Rodale Remedy Finder!