For hay fever sufferers who love to make the most of a jog or park exercise class this can be a tricky time of year.For those with hay fever the breathing in pollen particles can trigger an allergic reaction characterised by sneezing and inflammation of the face and airways. This can cause intense discomfort in some and lead to sleepless nights, a feeling of impaired thinking in the day. In the UK we usually think of hay fever as a summer issue as 95 per cent of people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen which is released from May to mid-September. Numerous different types of pollen are constantly being released into the atmosphere by various plants and trees. To effectively avoid the pollen causing your allergy you need to narrow down the specific type which your body is averse to help you avoid it as much as possible.
Studies have shown that regular exercise can help improve your hay fever symptoms. A survey undertaken by the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit of more than 2,000 people with hay fever, found that regular exercise can actually improve symptoms, so feeling blocked up shouldn’t be a reason to stop working out, even if you suffer the lethargy that can sometimes accompany hay fever. The survey showed that people who exercised most had the mildest symptoms compared to those who did the least amount of physical activity. So if you want to help your symptoms you need to aim for 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week. “Regular exercise benefits most people particularly those with allergic asthma,” says Maureen Jenkins, Clinical Director at Allergy UK.
“Exercise in someone with allergic asthma is recommended, but those with exercise-induced asthma should take two puffs of their (blue) reliever inhaler beforehand; starting to exercise slowly while keeping their rescue inhaler within reach. If exercising at the time of year when pollen is likely to affect them, then they should also take an antihistamine.”
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Pollen levels change throughout the day, so make the time you are likely to be breathing most deeply be when they are at their lowest. Pollen is usually at its highest first thing in the morning and early evening – try exercising during lunchtime instead when levels are lower.
“There is no need to skip exercise,” says Maureen. “Simply adapt your routine so that you exercise indoors or outside in the middle of the day, when pollen particles are at their highest point in the atmosphere, and less likely to affect you.” If you can find a park exercise class or even take a brisk walk in your lunch hour, you will be able to combine your love of the great outdoors and fitness.
Location as well as timing can also make a difference if you are trying to avoid excessive pollen contact. If you are out running or walking try to avoid wooded areas such as parks and gardens and stick to more residential areas or beaches. Outdoor swimming pools, the sea and tennis courts are also good locations to work out.
It is also worth considering the intensity of your work out too. The deeper you are breathing the more likely you are to inhale pollen, so think about taking a lighter impact approach. So instead of running for 30mins you might find it better to walk briskly for an hour. If you are a fan of HIIT classes you could be better swapping these for weight lifting or stretch based work outs.
Read: Why just 10 minutes of exercise a day is good for you
Even if you are exercising in the middle of the day, have taken an anti-histamine and chosen your location carefully, there are still simple and easy steps you can take to make sure you reduce the irritating effects of pollen. Making sure you wear wrap-around sunglasses will limit the amount of pollen particles which are able to touch your delicate eye area.
Use a barrier balm around your nose, just some simple Vasaline will help catch the pollen and prevent it being easily breathed in. This needs to be reapplied every time you sneeze or blow your nose.
Maureen says all these measures will make a difference, “Use a nasal balm or barrier spray to prevent pollens entering the nostrils and wear wrap-around sunglasses. Take a daily non-sedating antihistamine, as well as a nasal steroid spray if symptoms are troublesome. Change clothes as soon as you come home, and shower and wash your hair to remove pollens. If you also have asthma always keep your blue rescue inhaler to hand. Plan your route to avoid expanses of grass or trees or high rise city areas.”
You may have to make some changes to your usual routine, but there is no reason why hay fever should stop you enjoying exercising outside.