If you’re one of the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies throughout the course of the year, you know how pesky and debilitating the experience can be. Allergies are actually our body’s response to foreign invaders, whether it be tree or grass pollen, mold, dust mites, cockroaches or pet dander. When exposed to these invaders, our body mistakenly recognizes healthy tissue as dangerous and reacts to it in the form of sneezing, runny nose, troubled breathing, and itchy eyes.
“Allergies result from the body producing too much of a type of antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE),” explains Victoria Glass M.D. a practicing doctor with Farr Institute. “This antibody attaches itself to certain cells that respond to allergens, called mast cells and, when this occurs, the mast cells release inflammatory chemicals that lead to symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and so on.”
Not everyone reacts the same to allergies, nor are they prone to the same triggers. What’s more, individuals with a family history of certain allergies will be at a higher risk of developing the allergies, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). If you already suffer from asthma, you may also be more prone to allergies. The reason behind this, according to Steve Hruby, D.C., doctor of chiropractic and founder at Kaizen Progressive Health in Scottsdale, Arizona, is asthma is already a chronic lung condition that results in narrowing of one’s airways. “An allergen could trigger this reaction, therefore making the body react negatively,” he says. “In such a scenario, the allergen could be the cause of the asthma, but also the asthma can be the cause of the allergy.”
Unfortunately, allergies can very easily get in the way of your workouts, regardless of whether or not you choose to exercise outdoors. Luckily, there are some tried-and-true ways you can keep your allergies from impacting your workouts. Here, experts share their best tips.
Take your asthma medication
If you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, which is symptomatic of shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing while exercising, it’s especially important that you take your medications, including short-acting beta-2 agonists such as albuterol inhaler, at least 10 minutes prior to exercising, according to Najee Ellerbe, N.A.S.M.-certified Sports Nutritionist, owner and founder of Everybody’s Juice. “These medications can help prevent the airways from contracting,” he says. “Another asthma treatment that may be useful taken 15-20 minutes before exercise is inhaled cromolyn sodium, such as Intal or Tilade.”
Especially during spring and fall if you suffer from seasonal allergies, Shirin Peters, MD, internal medicine specialist and founder of Bethany Medical Clinic in New York, recommends finding and sticking with workouts that are indoors in a controlled environment (i.e. with air purifiers) to minimize exposure to pollen. “Running outdoors in a park for example should be avoided during pollen season,” she says.
Wash your workout clothes with a safe detergent
You should be washing your workout clothes regularly—after every sweat session—and using a hypoallergenic detergent that’s gentle on the skin and won’t lead to irritation, according to Dr. Peters. She recommends using a hypoallergenic detergent like Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free and Clear, which is safe for people with sensitive skin.
Check the pollen count
As a general rule, Ellerbe recommends avoiding peak pollen times, which are typically early in the morning. “Before you step outdoors, you should also check your local pollen and pollutant counts so that you can adjust your workout accordingly,” she says. “If possible, avoid running during peak hours—especially during the worst times of day for air quality.”
Avoid windy weather
Even if the pollen count is not overly threatening, it might be a good idea to workout inside if the weather is dry and windy. “Windy weather will disperse allergens such as pollen more and they’ll be more of a threat,” says Dr. Hruby. “When it’s the high pollen season, exercising outdoors isn’t advisable—but if it’s a must then do it after the rain.”
Rinse off after exercising
If your schedule allows, consider relaxing in a warm shower or bath after your workout. “This will help you relax while also soothing any itchy or irritated skin that may have popped up during your exercise session thanks to those pesky allergens,” says Dr. Glass. She recommends avoiding saunas or hot tubs after exercise, however, as this will help avoid filling your body with excess histamines from the sweat on your skin. “Drink lots of water while you exercise to avoid dehydration, another contributor to histamine production in the body,” she adds.