Where I live Knoxville, Tennessee in a mountain valley, most everyone struggles with it—allergies. And thus, most runners have to deal with running with allergies.
The first warm breeze, the sweet smell of flowers, the rising temperatures… spring is a golden season for runners. For many, it’s a much-welcomed time of the year full of new life, longer days, and the longing to get outside. But for those who struggle at all with seasonal allergies… forget about it!
Related: 12 Must-Have Spring Running Gear
Running with allergies requires pre-planning and caution: The runny nose, the sneezes, the head that feels as though it’s stuck underwater… Spring can feel like the best and worst of seasons wrapped into one.
For runners, the itch to get outside doesn’t lessen even when dealing with these pesky allergies. So, what can we do about it? Like all good things in life, a little awareness and intentional preparation can make all the difference!
In this article, I’m going to help you keep running with allergies. I will cover:
- Can you go running with allergies?
- How to know if it’s allergies or something else
- Can running help allergies?
- And 10 tips for running with allergies
Keep in mind I am not a doctor, I am a running coach. If you have health concerns, talk to your doctor!
Can I go running with allergies?
The short answer is “yes,” the long answer is “know your triggers, take precautions, and rest or skip the run when necessary.”
When we breathe deeply on a run, we not only take in more pollen and allergens but our lungs and sinuses constrict causing congestion to loosen and subsequently intensify. Unless your allergy symptoms include asthma-related episodes or excessive fatigue, the likelihood of your allergies doing more than aggravating annoying symptoms is low.
How do I know it’s allergies?
You’ve likely come across at least one person who has quickly followed up a sneeze with “don’t worry, it’s just allergies!”
In the age of COVID, we are aware of the viruses that trapeze public places, and as a mother runner, you’re probably even more aware, because every 4-6 weeks your child likely comes home from school with YET another illness. (Sigh!)
So, how did that person know their sneeze was the result of allergies? Better question: How can we know?
While seasonal allergies are related to recent exposure to allergens and a cold/ COVID is caused by a virus, they can all look, walk, and talk the same — sharing some very similar symptoms.
If you are experiencing symptoms and have recently been exposed to someone with a cold or COVID, take a COVID test and/or check out this comparison chart from the NIH to determine what you are dealing with.
In short, if you have cold-like symptoms but don’t have:
- a fever
- or chest discomfort
it could very well be allergies.
If you have other symptoms, it could be a cold, flu, or COVID-19.
If there has been a recent shift in weather, increase in pollen count, or exposure to known allergens, it’s most likely seasonal allergies taking hold. Typically, allergies last longer whereas COVID and the common cold only linger for a week or two. When in doubt, consult your doctor!
Does running help allergies?
While running can help to break up congestion and strengthen blood flow — flushing out allergens faster and reducing inflammation, it can also, unfortunately, aggravate and increase symptoms when done outside. So, do we just deal with the catch-22 and call it a day? Or is there something we can do to mitigate seasonal allergy’s effects upon our bodies?
Can running make allergies worse?
Yes, running can make allergies worse because it increases your breathing rate which makes you breathe in more allergens—worsening your body’s reaction to them.
How do runners deal with allergies?
Most seasoned runners with seasonal allergies know their triggers, run at the right time of day, cover their nose and mouth, and take allergy medications.
Get more tips for running with allergies below!
8 Tips for Running with Allergies
There is no cheat sheet or miracle cure, but there are 8 specific steps to take to go running with allergies, mitigate the increase of symptoms, and recover faster.
Related: Can You Go Running with a Cold?
Before the Run:
Monitor the pollen count.
Runners with allergies fare the best when the pollen count is low. You can check pollen count on your weather app or on Pollen.com. Pollen counts fluctuate throughout the day so be sure to check before you head out.
You can figure out what pollen counts are triggers for you by logging when you feel good or bad.
You may also go to an allergist to know your triggers including if you are allergic to ragweed, tree pollen, or grass pollen, for example. Then you can run when those pollens are less active.
Check the weather.
Pollen counts can be directly impacted by the weather.
Avoid running on a very dry day, windy day, or after a recent heavy downpour/prolonged rainfall as these conditions can increase pollen count. Days, when a warm front has pass through, will also have high pollen counts.
A day of light rainfall, on the other hand, can be beneficial as that steady drip can create a cleansing effect upon pollen in the air.
However, rain can increase mold spores, so if your allergens include both, maybe avoid running in the rain altogether or keep an extra close eye on pollen count during those days.
Take allergy medication.
If you run with seasonal allergies on an infrequent basis, taking an antihistamine allergy medication such as Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra at least two hours before your run will help alleviate allergy symptoms. Taking Flonase with an oral allergy medication may improve symptoms. Eye drops such as Zadiator will help with itchy, watery eyes.
If you are having a hard time running with allergies, have your symptoms evaluated and tested by an allergist. They will help you identify your biggest allergens, what will trigger those allergies, and how to manage your biggest symptoms.
The more you can manage symptoms daily, the easier it will be to run with allergies.
On the Run:
Wear the right gear.
Cover the areas of your face that become extra irritated on the run.
Wear tight wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from irritation, wear a brimmed hat to protect your head from collecting excess pollen, and consider covering your mouth and nose with a light and breathable BUFF like this one if you are extra sensitive.
A light, breathable mask will restrict pollen from entering your sinuses and also warm the air you are breathing — reducing constriction of your lungs making it easier to breathe.
Listen to your body.
Most allergy symptoms are manageable, but some can cause you to feel extra fatigued. Just like you would with any other illness or increase in mileage/intensity during a training plan, listen to your body!
Rest or an easy recovery run is usually your best defense against worsening symptoms.
While on the road, run using effort as your guideline instead of pace. Any coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing can be an indication of an oncoming asthma attack and should be noted and adjusted to on the run.
If you are running with allergy symptoms, it is wise to decrease effort and pace since the harder you breathe, the more allergens you expose yourself to.
Also avoid running when you’re sick or tired, as your immune system won’t be strong enough to fight off the allergens and so your symptoms will be worse!
Run on the treadmill or cross-train.
When in doubt, embrace our indoor friend: the treadmill. If you don’t have access to a treadmill (or just have a deep aversion to them), replace your run with a quality cross-training session.
A treadmill is a wonderful training tool to have in your kit, so I advise mother runners to nail down access to one for most contingency plans.
Related: Smart Treadmill Running Tips for Mother RunnersAfter the Run:
Change and shower as soon as possible.
To avoid prolonged exposure to allergens, change as soon as you return home — perhaps removing your hat and shoes outside and/or throwing your running clothes directly into the washing machine.
To avoid any allergens traveling to other surfaces of your house, shower as soon as possible. Not only will a hot shower remove any lingering pollen you’ve tracked in from outside, it may also help clear up your sinuses post-run.
Visit an allergist.
If these measures don’t help you, consider seeing an allergist to identify what exactly it is that irritates you. You may need to use a daily prescription or inhaler during allergy season.
If you are more interested in a non-traditional approach to medicine, consider chiropractic care or even a NAET practitioner.
If you want guidance with your run training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan