By Nicholas Rudy, PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy
Recently, many magazines and online publishers have written articles indicating the benefit of exercise in the alleviation of allergy symptoms. The website Total Gym Pulse reports that the American Academy for Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) indicates warm-up exercises can improve allergy symptoms.1 According to the site, a blood-pumping workout promotes the removal the allergen from the body.1 Additionally, Total Gym Pulse along with Fitness Magazine propose that exercise relieves allergy-related congestion by reducing swelling in the nose.1, 2 While the use of warm-up exercises are approved for the control of allergy symptoms by AAAAI, there is insufficient clinical evidence to conclude that moderate to intense exercise is directly linked to allergy symptom relief.
However, the adverse effects of exercising outside with airborne, outdoor allergies are clear. A 2010 study found that those with airborne allergies (i.e. pollen) had increased levels of IgE after exercising outside.3 IgE is a type of antibody that plays a key role in allergic reactions. Accordingly, increased levels of IgE are indicative of a heightened allergic response. Yet, the study stated that further evidence is needed to form a conclusive connection between airborne allergies and exercise.3 Similarly, the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology published a study on the differences in nasal obstruction between seasonal allergy sufferers and healthy patients after exercise. Children who had an allergy to pollen were compared to children who did not during a time outside of pollen season. No child had obstructed nasal passages at the beginning of an exercise challenge. By the end of the challenge, children with a pollen allergy had greater nasal obstruction than children without the allergy.4 But again, further evidence is required to link airborne, outdoor allergies to exercise.
But don’t be discouraged, allergy sufferers! Exercising, regardless of the benefits, does not have to be an uncomfortable burden during allergy season. In fact, there are many credible suggestions for managing your symptoms in order to achieve a great workout. So don’t let that stuffy nose, sneezing or those itchy, watery eyes get in the way of staying fit during allergy season!
First, be sure to take your allergy medication as prescribed. It is hard to focus on exercising when allergy symptoms feel unbearable. Using your medication as prescribed can relieve the nasal congestion associated with allergies that makes exercising difficult.5 Breathe through the nose as much as possible. Your nasal passages are designed to function as humidifiers and filters. They warm and moisten air while stopping allergens and other irritants.5
Be strategic about where you workout! If exercising outdoors with an airborne allergy, choose a time and location to minimize exposure to allergens. The pollen count tends to be highest in the morning and early afternoon. Avoid areas with lots of trees and fields as these areas may exacerbate your symptoms.5
Set an intensity that feels right for you. You can best determine what your body can handle. Take into account the severity of your symptoms and the activeness of your lifestyle. Start your aerobic workout off slow and gradually build intensity to avoid exhaustion.6
Don’t forget the warm-up! Like the AAAAI, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) claims that a low-intensity warm-up may help relieve allergy symptoms. The ACSM suggests that a warm-up lets the lungs adjust to a new environment and reduces the chances of inflammation, thus making breathing easier and exercising in allergy season more bearable.6
Perhaps most importantly, talk to your doctor about your specific allergies, how they might affect your workout and what adjustments you can make.
There is no reason to fear, allergy sufferers! Your symptoms can be controlled. If you keep taking your allergy medications, working out at your own pace and minimizing your exposure to allergens, you’ll be more comfortable during your workout! Though no definitive connection between exercise and allergy relief is currently available, exercise is good for your health. There is no need to let allergy season crumble your determination to stay fit and be healthy!
- Salada L. Fighting allergies and asthma with exercise. Total Gym Pulse Web site. http://www.totalgymdirect.com/total-gym-blog/working-out-allergies/. Published March 20, 2014.
- Greenfield P. 5 seasonal allergy remedies. Fitness Magazine Web site. http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/health/conditions/allergies/seasonal-allergy-remedies/. Published May, 2011.
- Aldred S, Love JA, Tonks LA, Stephens E, Jones DS, Blannin AK. The effect of steady state exercise on circulating human IgE and IgG in young healthy volunteers with known allergy. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2010;13(1):16-19.
- Harmancı K, Urhan B, Anıl H, Kocak A. Nasal and bronchial response to exercise in children with seasonal allergic rhinitis out of the pollen season. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 2015;5(2):143-148.
- Sorace P. Exercising with allergies and asthma. ACSM Fit Society Page. 2014;16(2):4-5.
- Briner W. Action plan for allergies. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2007.