by Melissa Barbagallo, RAC member
When March, the start of pollen season, has arrived, Spring is literally in the air. That means a nightmare of wheezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes for the millions of runners with seasonal allergies. But even if you are one of them, have no fear: having hay fever doesn't mean you are condemned to the treadmill for months to come. In fact, with a little preparation, you can hit the trails, streets or track without so much as a sniffle. Here's how:
To check your city's daily pollen count, visit www.aaaai.org, the official website of the AAAAI.
- Know your pollen season
"Many people don't realize it, but there are actually three pollen seasons. First, the tree pollen season which begins in February and lasts through May. Next, the grass pollen season which begins in May and lasts through June. And finally, the Fall pollen season which begins in late June and extends through October," says Dr. Peyton Eggleston, the interim director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the Pediatrics Department of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. "The first step is finding out what you're allergic to."
If you're not exactly sure what is causing your discomfort, don't worry- your doctor can help you pinpoint the cause of your allergies and recommend a solution, whether that's an asthma inhaler, an over-the-counter antihistamine or indoor exercise on the most offensive days.
"One thing people don't do enough is go see their doctors when their pollen seasons are coming up," says Eggleston, adding that the only real way to treat allergies is to prevent them in the first place. "Don't play them down - make sure you bring them up at your annual visit." Better yet, schedule your yearly check-up accordingly so that by the time your pollen season rolls around, you'll have your treatment in hand - before symptoms have a chance to develop.
- Take your allergies seriously
Don't trivialize your allergies - they can, in some cases, be deadly if not treated properly. In fact, a small number of people die every year from problems related to exercise and seasonal allergies, most often anaphylactic shock. An extremely serious type of allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock typically occurs quickly, without warning, and within 30 minutes of exposure to the culprit allergen, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Common symptoms include breathing problems, faintness, and the closing of the throat. This reaction should always be regarded as a medical emergency.
"Some runners can have an anaphylactic response during pollen season. While this is rare, it's quite serious," Eggleston says, adding that people usually know if they are prone to the condition. "If you have it, carry an EpiPen, and use it if you feel like you're experiencing super-exposure. It won't prevent it, but it'll keep it under control."
If you are at risk, it is also wise to carry a cell phone when running or, at the very least, to inform a friend or family member of your intended running route. These simple steps could save your life.
- Take your medication
Even if you are not at significant risk for anaphylactic shock or a similar dangerous condition, it is still smart to keep your symptoms in check with medication.
"Try taking a second-generation antihistamine [a newer class of the drug that won't make you feel drowsy or disoriented] such as Claritin before you run," suggests Dr. Alexander Greiner, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group & Research Center, APC in San Diego, California. "Prophylactic eye drops may also help." Talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you.
- Mind the weather
Early Spring is often the worst time for runners with allergies because of its mixture of pollen and cold weather. Such conditions can trigger a multitude of problems, specifically exercise-induced asthma. A breathing disorder that typically surfaces only during strenuous activity, exercise-induced asthma can usually be kept under control with an inhaler. However, taking extra precautions can help lessen the effects.
"Try using a face mask or putting a scarf over your nose and mouth for filtration," Eggleston says. "This will prevent the nose and mouth from drying out."
Or try running indoors on a treadmill at home or in a well-ventilated gym on cold days. The same goes for days when the pollen count is through the roof.
"If the pollen count is high, stay inside, even if you plan to avoid grassy areas," says Greiner, who himself has seasonal allergies. "Pollen can fly for miles, so even if you are in the city, you can have problems."
About the Author: RAC member Melissa Barbagallo has run with allergies for more than 15 years. She is a freelance writer and English/mass communication instructor based in San Diego and the Washington, DC, metro area.