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Staying Active With Allergies

by Karen Ung

While trees, weeds and flowering plants are putting out pollen faster than you can sneeze it out, it is possible to stay active with allergies. Here are my top 12 tips for dealing with seasonal allergies.

Please note that I am not a medical professional, but I am a lifelong allergy sufferer. What works for me may not work for everyone, so please speak to your doctor if you think you have allergies or would like to alter your treatment regimen.

daisies in a field
You CAN enjoy the flowers and play outside without allergy symptoms!

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12 Tips for Staying Active with Allergies

  1. Get tested so you know what you are allergic to. You will need a referral to an allergy specialist from your family doctor.
  2. Now that you know what you’re allergic to, avoid allergens when you can. 
    • Drive with your windows closed and A/C on.
    • Sleep with your windows closed and limit early morning outdoor activity. Tree pollen counts are usually highest between 5 am and 10 am. (Source)
    • Change activities as needed. Get out on the water or work out indoors when things you’re allergic to are pollinating.
  3. Don’t exert yourself when pollen counts are high or you’re feeling awful. Save that big workout for another day; your body’s already working hard.
  4. Check the local pollen forecast and plan activities accordingly. The Weather Network has a handy pollen forecast for many cities. 
  5. Check the weather. Dry, windy days are the worst for allergy sufferers. Pollen that has dried on the pavement gets recirculated into the air when it’s dry. Rainy days wash some of it away and essentially clean the air (temporarily), so opt to do weights indoors on a breezy, sunny day and do your long run on a calm or rainy day.
  6. Maintain good air quality in your home to give your taxed system a break when you are indoors.
    • Change the air filter on your furnace regularly. Use a high quality filter!
    • Keep a HEPA air cleaner running in your bedroom at night. For best results, turn it on 30-60 minutes before bedtime so the air is clean when you go to sleep. Look for an energy efficient air cleaner with a true HEPA filter.
  7. Reduce contact with pollen, then wash it off! 
    • Tie up long hair and wear a hat.
    • Cover up so pollen stays off your skin (it can cause itchy skin or rashes).
    • Change your clothes! Leave footwear and jackets in the entrance way. Put outdoor workout clothes straight in the wash – do NOT bring them into your bedroom.
    • Shower when you get home, or before bed, to remove pollen. If you don’t have time to wash your hair, at least rinse it. Getting pollen off your skin and out of your hair makes a HUGE difference!
  8. For mild allergy symptoms, try topical allergy treatments as they tend to have fewer side effects and do not make your drowsy (several “nondrowsy” medications still cause drowsiness).
    • Rinse your nose several times a day with saline spray. Removing pollen from your nasal passages reduces allergy symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. Avoid sprays with additional ingredients (herbs, menthol for example) as they can cause irritation. I like HydraSense Saline Nose Spray.
    • Feel like scratching your eyes out? Anti-allergy eye drops can work wonders. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for brands that will help without causing a rebound effect (some brands can help for a short period, then worsen symptoms). Opticrom is affordable, available without a prescription (used to be only by prescription) and very effective if used continuously (note that it takes a few days to take effect and must be used multiple times a day).
  9. If over the counter topical treatments aren’t providing much relief, consider antihistamines and prescription nose sprays and eye drops. Your doctor can make recommendations for you based on symptoms (certain medications are better for certain symptoms) and insurance coverage, and can advise you on how long to use them. Prescription nose sprays and eye drops are quite costly, but very effective for severe allergy symptoms.
    • Take antihistamines at night so they will be effective in the morning when pollen counts are highest!
    • Reactine, Allegra, and Claritin are popular antihistamines you can get without a prescription. Reactine is the strongest but can cause mild drowsiness. Allegra is slightly less effective than Reactine but is non-drowsy (don’t take it too late at night or you might have trouble sleeping!). Claritin is suitable for mild allergies only and takes a few days to work (Reactine and Allegra provide relief in about half an hour!). Check with your pharmacist to ensure there are no drug interactions with other medications/supplements you are taking. *Note that Reactine contains gluten, and Claritin contains lactose.
    • If you don’t have drug coverage but want prescription-level relief, try Flonase corticosteroid nose spray (previously available only by prescription). Since there are side effects to using corticosteroids, please talk to your family doctor, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist before using them, and don’t use them for more than 2-3 consecutive weeks.
  10. Look into immunotherapy (allergy shots). This involves getting shots on a regular basis for a few years to desensitize your body to allergens. According to the American College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology, allergy shots reduced symptoms by 85%! (Source
  11. Avoid foods that cause cross reactions. Certain foods can cause cross reactions also known as Oral Allergy Syndrome. For example, people with grass allergies may react to melons with an itchy mouth or facial swelling! Apples may irritate people allergic to birch pollen (when birch trees are pollinating). Please see American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology for a table that shows pollens and foods that cross react. 
  12. Get out of town! Pollen tends to break down in rural areas rather than settle on pavement until the next dry day. Allergens in the country may also be vastly different from city allergens. I know I feel great when I head to the mountains – no grass or ragweed pollen! What are your secrets to staying active with allergies?
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