Should I Exercise Outside if I Have Allergies?

Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021

Getting tested

An allergy is a condition in which the immune system overresponds to a foreign substance. With the right treatment and precautions, you can completely eliminate allergy flare-ups during your outdoor workout.
An allergy is a condition in which the immune system overresponds to a foreign substance. With the right treatment and precautions, you can completely eliminate allergy flare-ups during your outdoor workout.

During peak allergy season, even a single blade of grass seems to be enough to trigger a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat, and itchy skin. If you have allergies, you might have considered skipping outdoor workouts to protect yourself from allergens. Still, you don't have to suffer this dramatic string of allergic reactions when getting some exercise outdoors. With just a few changes to your exercise routine, you can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities even during allergy season.

“The best thing, if you have allergies, is actually knowing what you’re allergic to and the season that allergen is the worst,” says Stacey Gray, Director of the Sinus Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. For example, pollen in the air is usually highest in early spring and summer, while ragweed is most widespread in fall. Knowing exactly what you’re allergic to and when it peaks in your area will help you avoid the whole range of allergy symptoms. This is especially important if you have both allergies and asthma.

If you regularly experience allergy symptoms outdoors but don't know what you're allergic to, consider seeing an allergist. Allergists are specialist doctors who will help you understand what is causing your discomfort and how you can prevent it. They may conduct a skin prick test or blood test to confirm the allergen responsible for your sneezing and wheezing.

Allergy medications

Sometimes, controlling your exposure to allergens is not enough to prevent allergy symptoms. In this case, you can take over-the-counter antihistamine medications like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Astelin (azelastine). You can get these medicines in the form of oral pills or nasal sprays. Flavia Hoyte, MD, an allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, recommends nasal antihistamines, as they tend to have immediate, full-body effects.

If your allergy symptoms are severe, you may need to use nasal steroids like Rhinocort (budesonide), Nasacort (triamcinolone), or Flonase (fluticasone). It is best to talk to a primary care physician before taking allergy medications, even if you only plan on taking non-prescription ones.

Tips for exercising with seasonal allergies

With the right treatment and precautions, you can completely eliminate allergy flare-ups during your outdoor workout. Here are a few tips to make exercising outdoors as safely and healthily as possible:

- Pay attention to the weather

You can easily find information on the pollen levels in your area in your local newspaper or online. If the total count of pollen and other allergens is especially high, skip outdoor exercise for the day to be on the safe side. In general, pollen levels are the highest on warm and windy days and the lowest on cool and humid days. To avoid allergies when exercising outdoors, the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy recommends exercising immediately after rainfall, as condensation stops pollen from blowing in the breeze.

- Pick the right time of day

Depending on your allergy, you may want to limit your outdoor workout to certain parts of the day. Grass and pollen counts peak in the late afternoon and early evening, while ragweed counts are the highest at early midday. Jay Portnoy, MD, the President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, recommends mornings and late evenings for your outdoor workouts during allergy season. If you can't avoid high-pollen times, though, consider wearing a face mask and sunglasses to protect your lungs and eyes.

- Choose the right exercise

The faster you breathe, the more allergens are likely to enter your body. Intense forms of exercise boost your breathing (respiration) rate and tire you out more quickly. A low-impact exercise routine including yoga, cycling, or pilates can help you avoid allergy symptoms. Simply going for a walk instead of a run can also help you manage your allergies outdoors {University of Virginia Health: "How to Exercise Outdoors During Allergy Season."}.

- Hit the shower after exercising

Cleaning off after outdoor exercises is a great way to remove pollen and other allergens that may be lingering on your skin. If you can't shower, make sure you wipe and rinse your nose and eyes. Allergens could also collect on your clothing. Changing clothes after exercising outdoors will prevent a post-exercise allergy attack. Wash your exercise clothes after every workout to ensure that the allergens don't enter your wardrobe.

- Listen to your body

If you are troubled by allergy symptoms while exercising outdoors, take a rest day or continue with low-impact activities indoors. Sometimes, you just need to listen to the signals your body is trying to send you. Pushing yourself to finish a workout while you’re battling allergies is going to make you feel worse, not better. Stay hydrated, clean your surroundings, and—if necessary—take medications to alleviate allergy symptoms.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021
References
SOURCES:

BMJ: "Intranasal corticosteroids versus oral H1 receptor antagonists in allergic rhinitis: systematic review of randomised controlled trials."

Flavia Cecilia Lega Hoyte, MD, Associate Professor, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, National Jewish Health.

Jay M. Portnoy, MD, President, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI.)

Mississippi Asthma and Allergy Clinic: "CAN I EXERCISE WITH SEASONAL ALLERGIES?"

Missouri medicine: "Appropriate Allergy Testing and Interpretation."

Stacey Tutt Gray, MD, Director, Sinus Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

Temple Health: "Is It OK to Exercise with Allergies?"