Why Do My Allergies Get Worse When Running?

A reader wonders how to avoid post-run sinus headaches and sore throats.

A reader asks: Every time I run outdoors, I develop an allergic reaction. I have sneezing fits and general sinus misery for the rest of the day. Last week, I started running again, developed the misery, but just pushed through it to see what would happen. Now I’ve got a sore throat and a sinus headache that I can tell is directly associated with the post-running misery.

Does this happen to anyone else? And should I continue to push through it, or wait till I feel better then continue running again?

It sounds like you have allergic rhinitis. You are not alone, and you can guess the magnitude of the problem by checking the allergy section of your local pharmacy. Your allergies are likely seasonal and probably due to pollens in the air.

The options for those who suffer from allergies have increased over the past 30 years and many medications that were previously prescription-only are now available over the counter.

For starters, the antihistamines in the H1 class have expanded beyond diphenhydramine (generally sold as Benadryl) and its relatives that tended to make people tired. Now there are “non-drowsy” preparations like loratadinefexofenadine and cetirizine. All are generally available online or over the counter and many pharmacy chains have their own generic brands, which brings the price down a bit. I would avoid combining the antihistamine with a decongestant, especially for running. The intranasal steroid spray preparations are also now available over the counter and can relieve symptoms for many with allergies. These nasal sprays are different than decongestant nasal sprays, which should be avoided. For those who have allergic eye symptoms, antihistamine eye drops are available online or over the counter.

As a runner, you can try different antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays individually or in combination, either prior to your runs or daily during your allergy season(s). You should not combine different antihistamines. If you find a medication or combination of medications that work, you can stick with it and hopefully enjoy your runs. If over the counter remedies do not work, see your GP who may be able to find a combination of medications that work for you or send you on to an allergist trained to manage more severe allergic rhinitis. An allergist may recommend allergy testing and allergy shots if you cannot get symptom relief with medications alone.

Allergies affect respiratory tissues and for some people this can extend into the lungs causing asthma. If you have coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath with your allergy symptoms, you should definitely see your GP.


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