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Allergy Basics: How to Keep Moving and Stay Well

Sniffling in the spring and summer, and you’re likely to blame allergies. Using tissues like they’re going out of style this time of year, and it’s a cold, right? Well, maybe. But just like you can get a cold in the summer (it's true!), allergies can come knocking even when it’s a frozen tundra outside. And especially if you have asthma, like I do, that can affect your workout.

When allergies strike it’s because something that would normally be harmless—be it pollen, dog dander or even dust—gets into a scuffle with your immune system. Your immune system decides that the dust (or whatever the offending substance) is no good, and responds by forming an army of antibodies specially trained to spot that allergen in the future. When the antibodies find it, they release immune chemicals to fight it off. And those chemicals, like histamine, are what make your eyes water, your nose itch, and your skin turn blotchy or whatever your personal allergy experience entails.

Much of the allergy attention goes to pollen from plants that swirls in the air throughout the warm season, and might leave you short of breath for your workout. When the offending flowers and greenery are buried under a layer of snow (as they are right now), they’re hardly pumping out pollen that makes you sneeze.

But being cooped up inside during the winter months can also leave you susceptible to different types of allergens. Some of the most common indoor offenders:

* Pet hair. It sure doesn’t look like spring out my window, but there’s been an undeniable uptick in shedding among the animals in my house suggesting that warmer days are on the (eventual) horizon. Let's just say my vacuum is working overtime.

* Dust and mold. Did you beef up your insulation and install new energy efficient windows to save on heating costs? One byproduct of leak-proof homes is that they’re, well, leak-proof. And that means the same air can end up going round and round, potentially carrying allergens with it. Along with vacuuming and dusting with a damp cloth regularly, air filters can help to remove small particles that make you sneeze and wheeze. Cracking a window on a warm-ish day might help as well.

* Air fresheners. That candle may smell lovely, but scented products often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause problems for about a third of people with asthma.

* Fresh cut flowers. Happy Valentine's Day! That giant bouquet from your beau might look and smell like spring—and bring springtime sneezing with it. For future reference, skip the gerbera daisies and zinnias in favor of roses, pollen-free lilies, or orchids.


While fresh air is an obvious solution for some of us, it can also cause further aggravation, especially for asthma sufferers. That’s because cold air can be a trigger for some people. But there are steps you can take to breathe easier.

* Do a nice, long warm-up. Starting slow and easing into your workout allows your body to produce chemicals that protect your lungs from bronchospasm.

* Wear a scarf or balaclava. This essential piece of cold weather gear both keeps your neck warm and helps to warm the air your breathe.

* Use your inhaler or asthma medication before exercise if you have them.

* Head for the pool. As long as you don’t have a chlorine sensitivity, the swimming pool and its warm, humid surroundings can be a haven from allergies.

The good news: Done right, exercise could actually help with allergy symptoms. Allergic runners experienced a 70 percent drop in sneezing, runny or itchy noses and congestion half an hour after running, according to a 2013 study. Scientists suggest that exercise may help to calm inflammatory proteins in the nose.

The reality is, I suspect everyone is probably different here. Personally, my asthma acts up more in the summer (likely egged on by that currently-frozen pollen in the air). But when I’m stuffed up, I swear by a good run to get my nose, ahem, running again. So figure out what works for you. Jot notes in a journal or planner about how you felt during workouts with different weather or surroundings. Soon enough, you should be able to spot some patterns, and plan accordingly.

Do you suffer from winter allergies? How about summer ones? What is your go-to workout for when your allergies are at their worst?
3 Comments Post a Comment
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by Richard_Cranium, Mar 08, 2014
Cold towel over eyes and bridge of nose. Nostrils preferably blocked with tissue or plugged, something very chilled to sip on or eat, one or two sudafed pills, two 25mg benedryl pills and one bottle of Opt-con A  eye drops. And relief should come within the hour.

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by Rockybearhemi3, Apr 22, 2014
Breathe easy from washing nostrils out in shower. With warm water and massager on over bridge of nose, cheeks, eyes, and forehead.  Take zertex and mucinex in AM, sudafed at lunch, Benadryl and mucinex in PM. Breath better and enjoy the outdoors!!

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by activenhealthy, Apr 22, 2014
I swear by running--it makes my nose run which keeps me from getting sinus infections.

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