Exercising outdoors? Make sure you bring these tools against allergy symptoms

Tacoma, Wash.-based photographer Katie Kauffman said she had a rocky relationship with the outdoors as a child because of allergies.

“I grew up in a family that loved hiking and doing outdoor activities, and I was basically just going through this phase in pain,” Kaufman told Yahoo Life. “And then as an adult, I basically don’t do any outdoor activities because of how bad my allergies are.”

If the runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes weren’t enough, Kaufman said that if her allergies were severe enough, they could sometimes trigger her asthma, causing “a whole host of other problems.”

But Kaufman said that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit; that’s when she decided she had to take it seriously and find a way to really get her allergies under control once and for all.

“She said: “The pandemic started … it was like, ‘Okay, I have to figure out a way to do something outdoors or I can’t do anything’. “‘I can’t do anything indoors and feel safe, so let’s figure out a way to do things outdoors.

Many Americans have turned to the outdoors during the pandemic — trading gym memberships for activities like hiking, golf, tennis and more. But for those wary of COVID-19, the great outdoors may be a safer bet, as spring comes and there are risks for those with seasonal allergies.

So, how can you exercise outdoors without catching those pesky spring allergens? We asked allergists for their top three recommendations.

Spring Allergy Workout Tip 1: Don’t Work Out in the Morning

When it comes to overcoming allergies and getting some outdoor exercise, timing is everything. First, you might want to rethink your pre-work jog.

“Your highest pollen count is usually in the morning, when the sun starts to come out,” Dr. Mark Corbett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told Yahoo Life. He recommends waiting until the afternoon or early evening; or if you can motivate yourself to exercise in the early hours of the morning, just before sunrise.

You should also pay close attention to local weather reports. Hot and humid days can lead to increased mold counts. Wind, humidity and light during thunderstorms can break pollen into smaller particles that are easier to inhale, creating a perfect storm for allergy sufferers and potentially causing a phenomenon known as “thunderstorm asthma.”

“People with asthma, in particular, can have severe reactions if they go out after a thunderstorm,” Corbett said. “So I probably don’t want to exercise after a thunderstorm.”

An ideal time to exercise outdoors? In mild, windless spring rain.

“The rain pushes the pollen down,” Melanie Carver, chief mission officer at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, told Yahoo Life. “So exercising in a light rain can be one of the best times to be outdoors when you have allergies.”

Spring Allergy Workout Tip 2: Cover Your Eyes and Hair

You also dress for allergy-fighting success. Carver recommends wearing sunglasses and hair wraps to keep pollen from getting into your hair and eyes.

Those COVID-era masks could also come in handy by reducing contact with pollen. “Many people reported a reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms since wearing a mask,” Carver said.

And don’t worry — it’s safe to exercise while wearing a mask. Allergies shouldn’t make exercising while wearing a mask more difficult, so if you’re having trouble breathing, you should seek professional help.

“Unless you have significant nasal congestion, a mere upper airway allergy shouldn’t really cause too much trouble with your breathing,” Corbett said of wearing a mask when exercising with allergies. “So if [you] have this condition, [you] may need to be assessed for the possibility of asthma.”

Pollen is lightweight and can stick to any type of clothing, so no specific type of material will keep you safe from allergens. Instead, plan to remove and wash your clothes after each workout. When you’re done, give yourself a good wash, too; both Carver and Corbett recommend taking a shower to rinse off any remaining pollen from your body and hair.

Spring allergy workout tip 3: Start your allergy medication early

Fortunately, there are plenty of over-the-counter remedies to help you fend off allergens and enjoy a sunny spring workout. But no matter what allergy medication you choose, be sure to start taking it as soon as possible.

“You want to start the medication a few weeks before the spring, not until you start congesting and you start having symptoms, because it’s not going to work well,” Corbett said. “I always tell my patients, ‘Valentine’s Day or the end of February, write down on your phone when to start medication'”.

But if you’re procrastinating, or your allergies are fairly mild, Corbett says taking an antihistamine a few hours before each workout can also help. Nasal steroid sprays — which Carver says are “the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis” — take longer to work, so you should take them at least a few days in advance.

For quick relief, Carver also recommends a saline nasal rinse to help flush out pollen from your nasal passages, and eye drops if your main symptom is itchy eyes.

Kaufman says her solution is to flush any allergens and irritants from her eyes and nose immediately after being outdoors.

“Most importantly, what really helped me was washing my face as soon as I got home,” Kaufman said. “I started carrying a saline nasal spray and eye wash in my hiking backpack, and as soon as I got back in the car I rinsed my eyes; I rinsed my nose; it really helped too– Just get rid of all this stuff as soon as possible.”

Now, Kaufman says, she’s enjoying more time outdoors.

“I started hiking and bought a bike. I’ve been experimenting with outdoor activities that I’ve never done before,” Kaufman said.

She especially enjoys nature walks with her dog Ziggy.

“I really enjoy finding trails that my dog and I can walk together,” she said. “We really enjoyed the narrow path through the forest”.