Sports with Hay Fever: What to Do About Pollen Allergies

Woman sneezing

By Pouria Taheri,
Head of Medical for adidas Runners and RUNBASE Berlin

Spring draws us outdoors and may even spark the start of marathon training, but anyone with allergies has major limitations to deal with.

Spring fever? I don’t think so. Early blooming trees, grasses, and pollen make life hard for those who suffer from allergies. “A training schedule that works can become a real challenge for athletes,” says Pouria Taheri, orthopedic specialist and trauma surgeon, sports physician and adidas Runners medical coach. The body resists any personal ambition. “Even in regular daily activities there is no end to the itchy nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. Breathing becomes harder and the general performance level drops; exercising makes it even worse.”  

Blooming tree

Here are 4 tips on how to work out despite pollen allergies:

1. Don’t give up

The fun in sports quickly evaporates when allergies prevent you from lacing up your running shoes. Frustration and the exhausting symptoms often make you want to take a break. “It’s understandable, but that’s exactly what I try to avoid as the attending physician. I encourage people to deal with the annoying problem,” says Pouria Taheri.
Fortunately there are several approaches here. Most people can hardly believe the most important tip: don’t give up! “Often the reason for the complaints is a lack of fresh air and exercise,” explains the sports physician. You have to gradually give your immune system the chance to adapt.

2. Strengthen your immune system

Did you know that regular exercise outdoors is almost as effective as allergen immunotherapy? Carefully building up resilience actually stabilizes the immune system.

Man sneezing

3. Use first aid for acute problems

In the alternative above, however, a subjective evaluation of your limits is decisive. You should have medical support such as an inhaler within reach so that your drive doesn’t get you into trouble. “Taking allergy medicine like an antihistamine before your workout is advisable to treat constant problems.” Antihistamines prevent the allergies from causing difficulty breathing or serious reactions like shortness of breath. Alternating your workouts between outdoors and indoors is a smart way to gradually strengthen your immune system and create a smooth transition to resilience.

Tip from experts:

Breathing through your nose while exercising outdoors warms you up and reduces the amount of allergens you inhale.

4. Allergen immunotherapy

You should seek medical treatment for ongoing afflictions or tough problems that recur over the years. “Many people try to address the problem with allergen immunotherapy, in which regular exposure to allergens teaches your immune system to adapt. However, this requires patience; the therapy usually takes one to two years.”

Man taking pills

Good to know:

This treatment is not right for everyone. Possible interactions with other substances or medications can lead to adverse reactions. It should be noted that medical supervision is critical in this process for recreational athletes as well as competitive athletes with conditions such as reactive airway disease or asthma.

At the end of the day, the annoying sneezing and the many little obstacles shouldn’t keep you from reaching your goals. The benefits of combining endurance and strength training are immeasurable and can improve your health long term, so that you don’t have to sacrifice quality of life in old age. Perseverance and smart decisions are essential to reach this higher goal.

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