Fitness Friday

Don't Let Allergies Ruin Your Workout

An ENT shares his secrets on how to enjoy the outdoors when the pollen is popping.

By Brittanie Shey July 14, 2017

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If you exercise outdoors in Houston, it’s not just the heat you have to contend with. Houston’s year-round mild weather and sub-tropical climate make it a boon for pollinating plants and mold growth. And if you suffer from allergies, that can make your workout all the more challenging.

But good news—there are some proactive steps you can take to limit the effects allergens have on your workout. That way you’ll never miss a training session. Dr. J. Cary Moorhead of Texas ENT Specialists said that he often sees athletes with allergies whose symptoms become worse following exercise.

“People have their typical allergy symptoms—the nose gets stopped up, it’s hard to breathe through it, and so on, but the next thing that happens is people start to have more asthma-type symptoms,” he says. “That same kind of irritation starts affecting their lungs and they start to have a harder time breathing and doing aerobic things.”

Those effects can last even hours after a workout, he says. “There’s kind of a delayed reaction some people have where they’ll have a reaction where they’re out in the pollen and then five to six hours later they get kind of a second reaction, which can happen when people are trying to sleep.” Lack of sleep, of course, can affect athletic performance the next day. Moorhead, who is a long-distance runner himself, has a couple of tips to minimize reactions for outdoor lovers:

  • Stay inside between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when the pollen counts are highest.
  • Remove clothing as you come indoors and immediately shower and wash your hair. That gets all the pollen off of your body and out of your hair.
  • Rinse your nose with saline solution when the workout is over. "That’s the same idea — getting the pollen out of your nose," says Moorhead
  • If you take an antihistamine, take it right before your workout so you have your highest dose right when you’re going to be exposed to the pollen.
  • And finally, stay hydrated so that you have lots of water on board and your mucus is thinner. It tends to be more cleansing that way.

If you know what you’re allergic to, Moorhead also recommends checking an allergen app, which will tell you what’s blooming and what pollens are high. Many weather apps, like Weather Underground, include pollen counts. Texas ENT’s web app also includes pollen levels by zip code.

“The problem Houston has is that we’re always getting hit with allergies," he says. "We have cedar in the winter and spring, then tree and grass pollens. Just when these pollens go down, the mold pops up.”

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