Don’t let watery eyes and a runny nose keep you from a spring workout. Avoid the pitfalls of allergy season with these expert tips

Call it the curse of spring: The very second you’re ready to start exercising outside, nature explodes and pollen punches you in the face. You’re not alone—nearly 40 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. Though springtime sniffles may seem unavoidable, don’t invest in the economy pack of Kleenex just yet. In addition to controlling your symptoms with meds and shots, here are six ways you can strike back.

Reschedule Your Workout

Exercising in the AM makes you more likely to stick with your workout routine, according to various studies. But the prime time for fitness is also the worst time for your outdoor allergies. Generally, pollen counts peak in the morning between 6 AM and 10 AM, says Frederick M. Schaffer, MD, chief medical officer of United Allergy Services. Unless you can get yourself in the habit of rising with the sun, consider moving your run to lunchtime or immediately after work. “Trees don’t like to pollinate when it’s very warm out,” says Paul Ehrlich, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “During the day pollen is less of a problem—but in the mornings and evenings when it’s cool and there’s a breeze, the pollen just goes crazy.”

In addition to avoiding peak times, regularly check your local weather forecast for days when the pollen count will be particularly high—and have a backup plan ready. Consider heading to the gym or hitting the pool when the pollen count reaches more than 900 grains per cubic meter (high)—and definitely stick with indoor workouts when the count hits 1,500 grains per cubic meter (very high).

Stay Indoors When You Need to De-Stress

As if you need one more thing to worry about—your immune system may react more severely to allergens when you’re feeling frazzled, according to researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center. After skin prick tests, study subjects with a history of seasonal allergies developed raised, itchy patches on their skin that were more red and twice as big when they were stressed compared to when they were feeling calmer.

Avoid Allergy-Aggravating Foods

Eating fruits and veggies is never a bad idea, but during allergy season, it’s important to pick the right ones. Many seasonal allergy sufferers are also affected by oral allergy syndrome, a reaction that occurs when pollen crosses paths with proteins from certain fruits and vegetables in the body, causing your lips to tingle and swell and your mouth to itch. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, those allergic to birch or alder trees may also react to celery, carrots, parsley, fennel, coriander, cherries, peaches, pears, kiwi, plums, and apples (cooked or canned varieties may produce less of a reaction). Grass allergy sufferers should steer clear of tomatoes, celery, peaches, melons, and oranges. Those with reactions to ragweed should pass on bananas, cucumbers, melon, and zucchini.

… And Stock Up On Superfoods

A diet rich in vitamins and minerals helps keep your body in peak condition, but several small studies suggest that adding certain food compounds or supplements may give you an allergy-busting boost. Probiotic yogurt may prevent your body from overreacting to outdoor allergens, according to a study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy. Allergy sufferers who consumed a daily dose of yogurt containing the good bacteria Lactobacillus casei had lower levels of an antibody that triggers the release of histamine, the key player in runny noses, watery eyes, and nonstop sneezing.

A spirulina supplement, which is rich in plant-based protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, may un-stuff your nose while enhancing your exercise performance. Allergy sufferers who took 2,000 mg of the blue-green algae daily experienced improvements in nasal allergy symptoms, according to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. What’s more, men who took spirulina supplements for four weeks tired less rapidly during two-hour treadmill runs, compared to men who took a placebo, according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The men who took spirulina also burned 11% more fat than those who took a placebo.

Strip Down Before You Step Inside

You’d take off muddy shoes and clothes before heading inside your house, and you need to treat pollen the same way. “What’s the first thing you do after you get home? Flop down on your couch or your bed,” says Ehrlich. “We track pollen into our homes and spread it out everywhere.” Before you leave for a workout, place a clean set of clothing in your entryway or garage so you can change as soon as you’re back. It’s also helpful to have a plastic bag handy so you can contain your affected clothing until laundry day. And remember to hit the showers before bedtime. If the pollen that’s settled in your hair gets on your pillowcase, you’ll breathe it in all night.

Ditch Glasses for Dailies

Even after shedding your workout clothes and hitting the shower, your eyes are still red, itchy, and watery. What gives? If you’ve been wearing the same contact lenses for weeks, they could be the culprit.

But don’t dig out your spectacles just yet. Contact lenses create a helpful barrier between the eyes and airborne allergens, suggests a report published in Contact Lens & Anterior Eye. Thing is, your eyes pollen filters need to be changed often. In other words, pick lenses that you can toss in the trash each day. When British researchers exposed grass allergy suffers to bursts of pollen, they experienced fewer overall allergy symptoms when wearing daily disposable contact lenses than when they ditched their contacts altogether.


By Hollis Templeton and Alyssa Wells
April 30, 2012