Stephen Klemawesch runs a doctor’s office as an allergist with his son, Patrick, in St. Petersburg, Florida. But he also runs outside, almost daily, and he knows that trail runners spend a lot of time running in allergen-rich air.
"Trees are the most prolific of pollen producers," he says. Most deciduous trees — the main sources of allergens — pollinate in the spring, but others in various seasons can give athletes with allergy issues potential year-round trouble. Plus, he explains, people can suffer from allergies from other parts of the natural world, like grasses, weeds, and the mold growing in the forests through which we run.
Klemawesch offers these tips to trail runners to keep you running outside comfortably, even while dealing with allergies in high-pollen season and through areas thick with mold-covered rocks and trees.
Know What's Ailing You
Klemawesch advises to take note of when, and where, you have allergy flare-ups—such as a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, and so on. Pay attention to what trails, with what types of trees, weeds, and grasses, seem to give you symptoms, and what trails don't.
And know that, aside from trees, mold spores found mostly in shaded, wooded areas can also cause allergy symptoms.
To be sure, "You can get tested by an allergist, even if you don't want treatment," he says. "An allergist can tell you if you're allergic to aspen or maple trees, for instance, and you can pick a trail that doesn't have the allergen that you're allergic to. You can make an informed decision."
An allergist can also assess if you might be suffering from exercise-induced allergies instead of from mold or pollen.
Plan Your Runs Accordingly
If you find you're suffering from any type of tree allergy, Klemawesch suggests running at the end of the day, if you're able. "Typically, there are higher pollen levels in the morning," he says.
And he says it's better to run after a rain, or a snowfall, which can help temper the tree allergens.
But if it's mold you're allergic to, it's better to run at the end of the day, "after the sun has a chance to dry things out," he says. And with a mold allergy, you wouldn't want to run after a rain. "The more dry, the better."
Check Pollen and Mold CountsDoing a web search for the pollen and mold counts in your area can help you decide if you need to plan your run around the air, or even if it just might be a day for an indoor workout.
Klemawesch says pretreating an allergy is helpful, and suggests taking an antihistamine before a run—but not just any brand. "Benadryl and other first-generation anti-histamines cause drowsiness and tend to dry people out," he warns. "You don't want to be dried out when you're worrying about hydration. That can affect your thermal regulation."
The second generation of over-the-counter antihistamines, he says, like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec, are non-sedating and non-drying—a much better choice for runners.
Klemawesch also recommends everything from an over-the-counter nasal spray called Nasalcrom, to prescription topical nasal antihistamines like Astepro and Patanase, which you'd use right before a run to ward off nasal and eye allergy symptoms. He also mentions Albuterol and Xopenex as preventive inhalers, and the newer nasal filters that work like a tiny filter inside your nose. "Both my son and I have tried them, and could breathe through them while working out."
When you expose yourself to all things outdoors on a trail run, the longer you go without a shower, the greater the likelihood your allergy symptoms will linger. And don't skip washing your hair. "Have you ever rubbed a balloon on your hair? That static electricity is because of protein molecules in hair, and pollen will specifically stick to your hair and not other parts of your body," says Klemawesh. "If you take a shower without washing your hair, you miss the main source of what can continue to expose you to what you were out in when your were on the trail."
Washing your clothes between runs is also important. "When your clothing is moist from sweat," says Klemawesch, "it picks up that much more pollen."
All of that said, Klemawesch maintains: "The best therapy is getting out on that trail. The better trained you are, the better you can cope with health and injuries, including allergies. Exercise is the best medicine."
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