Ease Your Seasonal Allergies During Exercise

Outdoor athletes are more susceptible to stuffy sinuses and weepy eyes. Here’s how to find relief.

Selene Yeager |

Outdoor athletes are more susceptible to stuffy sinuses and weepy eyes. Here’s how to find relief. – By Selene Yeager


It’s a cruel irony that just as the weather finally starts to improve many outdoor recreationalists like cyclists start to tear up—and not with tears of joy. Itchy, watery eyes are oftened accompanied by a host of other miserable symptoms of seasonal allergies, like a stuffy head, runny nose, and scratchy throat.
RELATED: 4 Reasons Your Allergies Are Getting Worse“Seasonal allergies are a product of an over-reactive immune system,” explains cyclist and allergist Miles Weinberger, MD, of the University of California, San Diego. You breathe in the stuff that’s floating in the air, like tree and grass pollen (if you’re exercising, you’re sucking in a lot of it), and your immune cells spout out an inflammatory substance called histamine. It’s the histamine that makes you miserable.The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends avoiding these histamine triggers by planning your outdoor activity around peak pollen levels. In spring and summer—tree and grass pollen season—levels are highest in the evening, while in late summer and early fall—ragweed time—they’re at peak in the morning. Blustery days can be particularly bad, as pollen can travel 10 to 15 miles on a windy day.

It’s hard enough to get your rides in without worrying about riding in the wind and what the trees are up to. If seasonal allergies are messing up your training, it’s best to head them off at the pass, says Weinberger, who says there are three main methods of treatment you can consider to clear up your spring rides. Here’s how each works, with some special considerations competitive cyclists should know about.



“Antihistamine drugs do a pretty good job in fighting general allergy symptoms,” Weinberger says.

Of the most commonly used over-the-counter meds—cetirizine hydrochloride (Zyrtec), fexofenadine hydrochloride (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin)—he recommends Zyrtec first as the most effective. The one potential downside is that unlike Allegra and Claritin, Zyrtec does not have a non-drowsy formula. So be sure to test it on a non-riding day to see how it affects you.

Also consider taking Zyrtec at bedtime, as the sedative effect may only lasts a few hours while the anti-histamine benefits last 24. And be aware that certain varieties of OTC allergy meds (those designated with the letter D) also contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine, which is on the banned substance list in high doses.


Nasal Steroids

Nasal sprays like fluticasone propionate (Claritin spray) and triamcinolone acetonide (AllerNaze) are also highly effective, particularly if your primary symptom is a stubbornly clogged nose, says Weinberger. However, if you’re a licensed competitive cyclist, be aware that these are steroid sprays, and fluticasone propionate is on the banned list.

If you think it might be an issue, checking whether you need a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) is prudent.



If all else fails, call an allergist and make an appointment to get “allergy desensitisation treatment,” i.e. shots. These shots work over time by helping your body get used to allergens so it is less likely to overreact when you’re exposed to them in the environment.

“It may or may not completely eliminate the need for medication, but it decreases it dramatically,” says Weinberger.

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