So that cool, crisp, fall air has now turned cold. Welcome, winter; but that never stopped you from running, right? Running in Charlotte is easily a year-round pursuit, but this time of year your nose wants to “run” with you. Keeping your snot to yourself is more than just a courtesy this year. It’s a necessity.
The obvious choices might be to wear a mask (handy for keeping your face warm!) or bring some tissues. Those are good ideas, says Dr. Karan Shukla, a Family and Sports Medicine Physician at Novant Health Randolph Family Medicine, and a longtime member of the medical team at Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. Masks are especially important if you are running on a busy or popular path where you can’t easily avoid being close to people. And remember to sneeze or cough into your elbow so you don’t broadcast your germs to anyone in your sphere.
But right about now, there’s a bigger question: Is my runny nose from the cold, an allergy, or COVID-19? A number of people who test positive for the virus report that they just thought they were having allergy problems, for which running in cold weather is a common culprit.
“Upper respiratory symptoms with exercise brings into discussion ‘exercise-induced rhinitis’ and ‘exercise-induced asthma,’” says Dr. Shukla. “Exercise is a well-established trigger for allergic disorders like hives, asthma, and anaphylaxis, but can also cause symptoms of rhinitis or inflammation of nasal passages – like sneezing, stuffy nose, and drainage.”
Dr. Shukla says as many as 50% of Olympic athletes have this problem, and about a quarter of all winter-sport athletes. In addition, if you’re new to the Carolinas, says Dr. Shukla, you’ll likely develop a few allergies you never knew you had. That’s perfectly normal. There are a few ways you can tell the difference between allergies and a virus.
First, if you get sniffles and congestion after a run, ask yourself: Are these symptoms that just started? Do they occur with certain identifiable triggers like exercising? Outdoors? Pets?
And now, more importantly, did they go away after a few hours? Have I been around a group of people who were not wearing masks and may have been asymptomatic COVID carriers? And the most common markers: Do I have a fever? Loss of taste or smell? Am I suddenly exhausted beyond belief?
“If you’re dealing with a COVID illness, your symptoms may fluctuate, but will be present and noticeable even when you’re not active,” says Dr. Shukla. “Fatigue and body aches, along with fevers and chills, and a loss of taste and smell – these symptoms suggest more than just an allergic response.” In other words, if you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck after activities you normally do, it’s more than allergies. It’s time to call your doctor, and take a day off.
“If you’re sick, don’t even do moderate activity because it can lead to potential worsening complications,” says Dr. Shukla. “If you’re sick, your heart is working harder, and your body is working harder to fight infection. You could have heart problems.” Doctors are learning more every day about COVID-induced heart problems like myocarditis or viral cardio myopathy, so give your heart a rest until you’ve recovered. If you want to get moving and feel up to it, walking is fine, says Dr. Shukla.
But if you rest and take care of yourself, and still don’t see improvement, keep your doctor in the loop about that. In addition to possible heart problems, blood clots are possible with COVID-19, which lead to shortness of breath.
“If you’re feeling unusually short of breath, see your doctor because you could have blood clots in your lungs or problems in your heart,” says Dr. Shukla. You can also get more easily dehydrated because fever and diarrhea both increase fluid loss. Drink plenty of fluids.
Otherwise, if it turns out that runny nose and congestion are just allergies, nasal sprays and anti-inflammatory medicine can help. Your doctor can point you to the right one.
So keep active, but to recap: Mask. Tissues. Sneeze or Cough into your arm. And NO SPITTING. (So no “snot rockets.” Ugh.)
“Blowing snot rockets right now is not a good idea when around others,” advises Dr. Shukla. Good idea.
And stay warm!