While you can't control all the pollen and ragweed flying through the air, there are some ways to guard yourself so they aren't so in-your-face—and cope when they can't be avoided. Here, allergist Payel Gupta, MD and Elizabeth Corkum, one of New York City's top running coaches and personal trainers, share exactly how to deal with seasonal allergies while on your outdoor runs.
Know your triggers
Avoiding seasonal allergies during your runs starts before you even lace up your sneakers. Dr. Gupta says an allergist can test for many common allergies and also know what tends to be the biggest triggers where you live. She explains that there are two main ways to be tested for allergies: through a blood test (which can indicate if antibodies are raised when exposed to a potential trigger) and through a skin test, where you're pricked with samples of potential allergens on your arm or back to see what causes a reaction. Depending on what someone is allergic to, she says they can get allergy shots to help with their symptoms.
If an allergist co-pay isn't in your budget (or you already know that you're sensitive to certain allergens), there are still quick preventative measures you can take to ensure your run is less miserable. "If you find out that pollen is an allergy trigger for you, then you can monitor the pollen count through an allergy resource site called Klarify," Dr. Gupta says. This can help you plan when to run outdoors versus doing an at-home virtual workout instead. (As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Gupta says that pollen counts tend to be worse in the morning and better in the afternoon and evening.)
If you want to take an over-the-counter antihistamine before your run, Dr. Gupta says the best time to do so is 20 minutes before you head outside. She also says using OTC steroid nasal sprays can also be helpful, but only if used consistently throughout allergy season.
Suit up in allergy-protective accessories
In terms of what to do on your actual run to protect yourself from seasonal allergies, Corkum is a big fan of sunglasses, which can protect your eyes from pollen and other irritants in the air. They also keep you from touching your eyes. "A lot of people affected by seasonal allergies tend to rub their eyes when they're running with their hand or shirt, but that's only going to make it worse," Corkum says. "Avoid touching your eyes with anything that's exposed to the elements." (Particularly key during a pandemic!) "If your eyes are still bothering you [while running], it may be worth it to run with a little water bottle and flush your eyes out with a couple drops of water so you can [get the pollen out] without touching your eyes," she says.
Corkum says that hats or visors can also protect your face from allergens. So can a mask—the silver lining to running with one during COVID-19. But wearing a mask while running can be irritating in other ways. For some folks, masks can cause a runny nose because it can trap irritants inside. "Unfortunately there's not a whole lot you can do to avoid this type of irritation while wearing a mask while running," Corkum says. (And that's no reason to skip wearing a mask on the regular, either.)
Dr. Gupta adds that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's only necessary to wear a mask while running if you're in a truly crowded area without the ability to maintain social distance. "You can also run with your mask down and put it up when someone is coming," she says.
What to do post-run
When you get home from a run, Corkum says it could be helpful to sip on tea with honey, which can soothe a sore throat made raw from allergens. "Taking a hot, steamy shower can help open the nasal passages up too," she says. (It helps to get the pollen and other elements off, too.)
While all these tips are helpful, Corkum says what's most important when it comes to seasonal allergies and running is to be kind to yourself. "Your body has to work harder when you're fighting off seasonal allergies, so it's important to keep that in mind and just know that a day when your allergies are bad probably isn't a day when you're going to PR—and that's okay!" She points out that especially since races are on hold right now, runners should give themselves permission to be easier on themselves.
"It's also important to remember that allergy season doesn't last forever," Corkum says. She adds that in the meantime, this could be the perfect opportunity to switch up your fitness routine with more virtual workouts that you can do inside. "Roll with the punches and be kind to yourself. That's the key," she says.
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