We get it. The weather breaks, we throw open the windows, get some fresh air, and tie our shoes a little tighter for a good, long run. Ahhhhhhh….. CHOO! Yes, it is one of Mother Nature’s cruel ironies that perfect outdoor weather brings the allergies that make us want to stay indoors.
And on top of that, we’re jogging into cold and flu season, with the specter of COVID-19 making us question every sniffle, sneeze, and daily bout of exhaustion. How do we stay sane and healthy with so many potential problems in the air? Know the difference, says Novant Health Pediatric Allergy & Immunology specialist Dr. Puja Rajani.
“With allergies, a runny nose is a big component, and usually watery eyes and itchy. Itchiness in general is an indicator that it’s allergy-related,” says Dr. Rajani. That’s because histamines, your body’s inflammatory response to allergens, cause itching (hence, treatment with anti-histamines).
“With viruses, one thing, for sure, is fever,” says Dr. Rajani. You won’t get a fever with allergies. Also, your cough will feel more like a tickle in the throat with allergies, versus something deeper with viruses. And phlegm? It’s thick and virulent with a virus, whereas with allergies, it’s mostly watery and clear.
Dr. Rajani also notes fatigue can be an indicator. While allergies may make you slightly more tired after a run, the fatigue brought on by coronavirus is sudden and extreme. If you show these symptoms and others common to COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who tested positive, go ahead and get tested. But if it’s just allergies, there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms and get the healthy workout you need — even outdoors.
“I like local treatments for both mild to moderate allergies,” says Dr. Rajani. Nose sprays, like Flonase or Nasacort, are “local” because they’re applied directly to nose tissue. “The concept of nose spray is to locally treat where they inflammation is beginning — it’s like cream for the inside of the nose.” She notes that it can take a couple of weeks to yield the best results, so you can plan your runs accordingly.
What about allergy pills? Will they make your workout sluggish — or the opposite, make you hyper? Dr. Rajani says that depends on the chemical make-up. For instance, Allegra (Fexofenadine HCl) doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but Claritin (Loratadine) and Zyrtec (Cetirizine) have been shown to cause drowsiness in 10-15% of patients, says Dr. Rajani.
For non-pill relief, turmeric is considered a holistic, food-based choice to lessen symptoms for the long term because of its anti-inflammatory properties. A neti pot or nasal rinse can also relieve symptoms temporarily without side effects, but aren’t a long-term solution.
And since every athlete is different, learn what works best for you — and don’t try something new the night before or morning of the race!
If your allergies go beyond the mild and quickly treatable, you may consider immunotherapy — in other words, allergy shots.
“That’s the only way we have that doesn’t just put a band-aid on symptoms, it actually treats the underlying cause,” says Dr. Rajani. “We teach the immune system that it doesn’t need to be reactive.” Allergy shots teach the body to get used to allergens slowly, to build up a resistance. If severe allergies keep you from doing what you want, or induce asthma, shots might be a good option.
“There’s no way to predict how allergies will change as we get older,” says Dr. Rajani. Age, lifestyle, and risk factors can be elements, so when the usual meds don’t work for you, you may want to be evaluated.
And last but not least, consider your environment.
“When you come back from a run, shower!” suggests Dr. Rajani. And change your pillow covers often so allergens don’t collect there. “It really affects the eyes and nose, because you’re potentially sleeping in things you’re allergic to.”
Your clothes, hair, and pets can also bring allergens into your home, and, get this — they can still affect you if you wear a mask.
“One of the biggest contributors to allergies is small particle size… and you can still be affected despite the mask,” Dr. Rajani reminds us. “It’s really hard to hide from pollen.”
But wait! Masks can be somewhat effective with bigger pollens — various trees and grasses that coat your car, and cat dander, says Dr. Rajani — but they won’t make your symptoms completely go away. So while owning a dog as a kid can help prevent asthma (no kidding!), Spot and Fluffy bring a double-doozy with dander and allergens on their coats. Wash them and love them, and that may help just like your own shower does.
And besides, a dog can be a great reminder to go for your daily walk or run. So figure out your best option — even a dog! — and enjoy the fall outdoors.