We get it — this has been a rough year, and we’re itching to get back to normal. But there’s one itch we could live without: Spring allergies! Oh yes, we love when the cold weather breaks and cool, clear, sunny days lift our spirits. But if you’re an allergy sufferer, a long run means an itchy nose and watery eyes and maybe even a full-on allergy attack. Yikes.
And here’s a fun fact: Charlotte is typically ranked in the top 50 cities in the U.S. for worst allergies reported, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Ok, so probably not such a fun fact.
Running in a mask is always an option, but we’re pretty tired of those things, aren’t we? (Doctors say you should still wear one when you’re around people, or indoors — but outdoors and alone is our chance to be free of the fabric, right?) And they won’t filter out the smallest allergens, either. Your best bet is to know your allergens.
“In spring, we have tree pollen,” says Dr. Puja Rajani, a Novant Health Pediatric Allergy & Immunology Specialist. That’s a change from the Fall. “In Fall, we have weed pollen and mold because it’s the rainy season, which means increased mold.”
Before you cut down your giant blooming magnolia, realize that the flowering trees in your neighborhood likely aren’t the problem.
“Heavier pollens, like magnolia and pine, aren’t usually a trigger,” says Dr. Rajani. “The size of antigen — it’s too big. It won’t trigger asthma.” The larger pollens (including those flowering bulbs we associate with spring) will simply fall to the ground, and aren’t likely to get kicked up in numbers to cause a reaction. The culprits in the spring are the trees we love so much in North Carolina: elm, cottonwood, cedar, oak, birch, hickory/pecan, and sweetgum trees. Other culprits are black walnut, sycamore, maple-box elder, mulberry, bald cypress, ash, and willow.
Oh, and welcome to Tree City, USA. We have an official designation, you know. But even if you remove your trees (or grass or other allergens) from your yard, pollen travels, and you can’t do much about your neighbor’s landscape. So what do you do if you love running outdoors in our perfect Spring weather?
“You should never let allergies stop you from doing things you want to do,” says Dr. Rajani. There are solutions. “Local” treatments like nose sprays treat nasal tissue at the source (hence, “local”). Flonase and Nasacort are two good ones. It may take a couple of weeks to see the results, says Dr. Rajani, so plan their use around your runs.
For allergy pills, consider the chemical make-up — which ones may make you sluggish or hyper. 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 holistic relief, turmeric can 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. You may need to try a few things to learn what works best for you.
And here’s the biggest piece of advice: 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. Skin tests can determine what your triggers are so you can treat them.
“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 help your body to build up a resistance to allergens. If severe allergies keep you from doing what you want, or induce asthma, shots might be a good option.
You can track daily allergens on popular weather apps, like WeatherBug, My Pollen Forecast, or Plume Air Report. That will let you know to have meds handy in case you need them. You can also control your environmental factors, by washing pets if they go outside, keeping your air filters clean, and taking a shower after every run. Washing your linens, especially your pillowcases, can help, too.
And as always, if in doubt, ask your doctor. Spring in North Carolina is beautiful — go out and enjoy it!