Exercising With Allergies
(BlackDoctor.org) — Don’t let fall allergies force you into putting your outdoor workouts on hiatus. Instead, take the advice of allergist Neil Kao, MD, to keep your workouts strongs as you keep your allergy symptoms at bay.
With pollen and mold, the best approach is avoidance. Pollen and mold spore levels vary with location, time of day, and the weather, explains Gailen D. Marshall, MD, PhD, director of the division of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Texas, Houston, Medical School.
Here are some handy tips to help keep your allergies under control while you’re trying to be active outside…
Don’t Forget Your Meds
“Begin taking your allergy medications at the start of the season,” Kao advises. That way, your immune system won’t have a chance to become activated by all the stuff you’re allergic to. “Most people wait until they can’t stand the symptoms any longer,” he says. “By that time, it’s like the house is already completely on fire—and there’s little chance you’ll be able to save it.”
If, despite your best efforts to avoid pollen and molds, your nose is still running, drugs can help. For mild symptoms, it’s worth trying an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy, says Marshall Plaut, MD, chief of the allergic mechanisms section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, MD.
If you have glaucoma, or prostate, breathing, or other health problems, or if you take other medications, check with your doctor first. Some allergy remedies can make these conditions worse or interact with other drugs. If an OTC remedy doesn’t help, ask your doctor about alternatives, Dr. Plaut suggests.
Monitor the Pollen Count
Although “there’s no best time of the day to avoid pollen,” Kao says, there is a best kind of weather: wet. “Rain removes pollen from the air, so the counts will be much lower for a day or two afterward.” In a dry spell? Check the local pollen count at the National Allergy Bureau’s website (pollen.aaaai.org); if it’s high, opt for some Wii time or hit the treadmill instead.
Though pollen levels vary over the course of the day, a pollen count (the measure of pollen levels in a given area over the preceding 24 hours) can tip you off when it’s particularly hazardous outside.
Many people start having trouble when the count reaches the 20 to 100 grains per cubic meter range. For the pollen count in your area, as well as helpful tips on allergies, call (800) 9-POLLEN (976-5536) between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm EST.
(Mold counts aren’t as reliable a guide, because mold spore levels are directly related to weather and will vary more widely over the course of a day than pollen levels do).
• Time of Day When Levels Are Highest Pollen: 5:00 to 10:00 am and early evening Mold: varies with type of mold; some release spores during the day; others, at night
• Time of Day When Levels Are Lowest Pollen: mid to late afternoon Mold: varies with type of mold
• Weather When Levels Are Highest Pollen: warm, dry, breezy Mold: warm and humid, particularly after a rain shower
• Weather When Levels Are Lowest Pollen: chilly, wet* Mold: cold and rainy
• Places When Levels Are Highest Pollen: parks with lots of trees and grass; meadows Mold: damp, shady spots with fallen leaves and rotting vegetation; freshly cut lawns, fields, and pastures
• Places Where Levels Are Lowest Pollen: indoor spaces with filtered air Mold: dry, cool, well-ventilated areas.
Dress For Allergies
Wear natural fibers rather than synthetics. When synthetics rub against one another, they create an electrical charge that attracts pollen, which, as it turns out, is also electrically charged, Dr. Marshall explains. Natural fibers such as cotton also breathe better, so they stay drier and less hospitable for moisture-loving mold.
Dry clothes and bedding in the dryer. Don’t dry your clothing on the line during allergy season. It’ll help you to avoid bringing pollen in the house.
Choose glasses over contacts. Or wear sunglasses, preferably the wraparound variety.
The Best Ways To Exercise
Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. Your nose filters incoming air, helping keep allergens out.You breathe harder and suck in more air when you’re exercising than when you’re, say, lying on the couch. That’s why it’s particularly important to minimize your exposure to allergens when you work out outside. The more air you suck in, the more airborne pollen and mold spores you suck in too. To minimize your exposure, exercise when and where pollen and mold levels are lowest.
Choose carefully. If you dabble in different types of exercise, stick with the one least likely to expose you to allergens during allergy season. Opt for tennis on a cement court rather than, say, golf, suggests Malcolm N. Blumenthal, MD, director of the Asthma and Allergy Program at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis.
Medicate first. Using certain medications, such as cromolyn sodium and antihistamines, before you exercise can ease allergy symptoms.
Exercise inside. When the pollen count is high, it’s time to go to the gym or the mall.
Avoid outdoor chemicals. In addition to avoiding pollen-showered groves and moldering leaf piles, steer clear of major highways and industries when you exercise. Chemical irritants from exhaust and from factory smokestacks can worsen allergy symptoms, says Dr. Blumenthal. And avoid fireworks displays on the holidays; the sulfur in the gunpowder is irritating.
Change Your Clothes Immediately
Instead of tracking pollen all over the house, change your clothes and remove your shoes when you come inside, Kao says. “If you have time, consider taking a shower to wash the remaining pollen off your skin and hair,” he adds.
Next, do a saline nasal rinse and put some saline drops in your eyes. “Together, these act like a car wash, removing all of the accumulated pollen on the mucosal surfaces,” Kao says. “Those surfaces are what respond with allergic symptoms.”