Nasal allergies affect an estimated 50 million people in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Typically, you associate spring as the season that gets your sinuses and allergies all in a tizzy, but fall brings its own set of problems—especially when it comes to hindering your workout.
Clifford Bassett, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Care of New York, lays out some basics to help you determine what’s causing your allergies, how they’re going to affect your workout (indoors and out), and what to do about it.
The fall allergens you’re most likely to experience in each geographic part of the U.S.
“In the west and Pacific northwest, grass pollen is still present in many areas, which can affect people from late summer through fall in warmer regions,” Bassett says. “In the northeast, Midwest, and southern states, ragweed, weed pollen, as well as outdoor mold spores can create havoc, especially if you don’t have a remedy to reign in pesky symptoms.” Exposure to ground level ozone and smog can really be troublesome if you have respiratory allergies, including asthma. Rainfall is also a big indicator of whether or not allergies will pose a problem.
When allergies are at their worst
“Pollen levels vary quite a bit from day to day, even within the course of one day,” Bassett says. Pollen counts typically rise on warm, sunny days that are dry, and most importantly, windy (you know, when all the allergens are blowing into your eyes, nose, and mouth). In most cases, the more it rains, the more allergens are washed away, but in some instances, a thunderstorm can spike the quantitity of pollen and mold spores in the air, even eliciting asthma attacks in some. And we haven’t even touched on indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust and dust mites, or mold spores.
How indoor allergens impact your indoor workout
Gyms aren’t always regarded as being ultraclean. They can harbor mildew that can affect unsuspecting sufferers who may not know they’re sensitive to mold spores. Another hidden offender: The cleaning supplies used to sanitize the machines and mats may have chemical irritants, which can trigger mild or severe reactions such as itchy eyes, rash, or trouble breathing. Bring your own mat (you may also be allergic to latex), and see if that helps. “Some people may also be sensitive to skin products, colognes, cosmetics and even sports performance clothing,” Bassett says. And if that wasn’t enough, gyms and fitness clubs that don’t have proper clean air filtration systems can be the catalyst to all your allergies. You can spend all your workouts indoors and still suffer, which is why you need pre-treatments to prevent the symptoms; just know it may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what’s irritating you. (Don’t freak out and quit the gym: We have those pre-treatments—and treatements—just two clicks away.)
How outdoor allergens impact your workout
“Some of the most annoying symptoms include nasal stuffiness and congestion, itchy and watery eyes, and frequent sneezing,” Bassett says. Sure, they’re annoying, but they can also hinder successful training. “People with nasal congestion find it more difficult to breathe through their nose, and often have to resort to less desirable mouth breathing that may affect peak performance, since the air isn’t being warmed in your nasal passages,” he adds. More seriously, people with allergies have a higher risk of exercise-associated asthma in the fall. A drop in temperature, lower humidity and transition to indoor heating and ventilation systems (in your home, car, and office for example) is consistent with more respiratory symptoms like coughs and sinus problems. Luckily there are some preventative measures you can take.
Prevent and treat fall allergies
When you’re working out outdoors, wear a baseball cap, avoid using hair gels that can attract and trap allergens, and wear sport sunglasses that fully cover your eyes to block and reduce your exposure to allergy-triggering pollen. Try over-the-counter medicines like nasal sprays and antihistamines to prevent and treat your symptoms, too. Talk to your pharmacist to get recommendations based on your specific symptoms.
And know this: There’s no substitute for an individualized in-office evaluation if you have allergies and respiratory conditions like asthma. “This can include lung capacity testing as well as in-office allergy skin testing to common seasonal and indoor allergens,” Bassett says. Prescribed asthma medications can also be extremely helpful for active men and women, because it enhances your workouts and provides you with a safer, more comfortable experience.