It’s immediate: My nose starts running. My eyes water. My throat feels scratchy, and I feel the urge to spit. I’m out for a run, and in no way do I resemble the fitness model—she of tanned limbs, gazelle-like strides, endorphin-fueled smile, and, most of all, dry face—I saw in a catalogue and hoped to emulate when I bought these expensive stretch pants. Instead, I am the red-nosed, miserable “before” image in an antihistamine ad. This is what happens when I try to exercise in the great outdoors during allergy season.
Allergies are a chief complaint in Atlanta, and with good reason: they’re getting worse. Why? Allergens thrive in the heat, and we’re having higher temperatures and more hot days than we used to. Ragweed season, for example, now lasts as many as 27 days longer than it did in 1995.
But some studies have shown that exercise itself can actually decrease allergy symptoms because, as Dr. Ramie A. Tritt of Atlanta ENT says, physical activity can calm the inflammatory proteins inside your nasal passages. And not everyone enjoys working out exclusively indoors.
So what can you do to alleviate your suffering (and, perhaps, confine that suffering to the exercise itself)? Here are some tips from the American Academy of Ototlaryngic Allergy and Dr. Thomas Chacko, a pediatric and adult allergist and immunologist in Atlanta:
Watch the time. The best hours for exercising outdoors during allergy season(s) are from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., and again at dusk.
Run in the rain. As long as there’s no lightning—and you don’t mind a little squish in your shoes—a run in the rain can be cooling and take some of the pressure off of your sinuses. The water dampens the pollen’s effect, washing it from the roads as well as your clothes. If working out in the rain isn’t your thing, though, you can always try going right after a rain—you’ll get a similar benefit.
Breathe through your nose. Though it’s difficult to breathe through your nose when you’re really exerting yourself, it’s important to try. When you breathe through your mouth, the air entering your lungs is not properly humidified and can affect the quality of your breathing. The nose also acts as a filter, keeping some irritants out.
Avoid lawn mowers. I’ve been known to hold my breath while passing a lawn mower during a run. Those machines kick up a lot of pollen and other allergens, so cross to the other side of the street when you come upon a lawn crew.
Check your terrain. If you are allergic to weeds and grass, don’t run in a field. If mold is your enemy, keep away from lakes. (If the mere idea of running makes you break out in hives, we cannot help you.)
Cover up. Wear sunglasses to keep allergens out of your eyes and, if the pollen is so thick you have to wipe it from the lenses, consider wearing a mask for your face, too.
Shower—immediately. This isn’t just a courtesy to those around you; it’s important to rinse off the pollen as quickly as possible after an outdoor sweat session, and make sure you do what you can to not track it into your home. You can also try a neti pot or saline spray to clear your nasal passages of any pesky irritants.
Seek medical help. Sometimes, all the tricks and tips in the world can’t seem to help an allergy sufferer. If that’s the case, then medication might help you out. They need time to build up in your system, though, so you’ll want to start the prescription before your allergies floor you. Another option: allergy immunotherapy. “Allergy shots for the springtime allergies are 85 percent to 90 percent effective and would be a good option,” Chacko says.