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Pollen allergy and exercise

The promise of warm days, birds singing, sun shining and the glorious outdoors. They call you to lace up your running shoes and hop on your bike, don't they? And then there's that New Year's resolution... oh yes, and that marathon you pledged to partake in (you even spilled the beans to all your friends, so there's no backing out now 😊). It's time to kick off the training! Only one catch: pollen allergies! So how does the question of pollen allergies gel with sports? Well, you’re not alone, even the professionals struggle with that question. Let me break it down for you.

Impact of Allergic Rhinitis on Athletic Performance:

Your pollen allergy could easily throw a wrench into your athletic prowess. When you get into the swing of physical exercise, your allergy symptoms could worsen as you breathe more deeply and expose yourself to more allergens. With exertion, you end up inhaling more air, and consequently, more pollen. The resulting allergy symptoms can cause rhinitis and inflammation of the airways, impacting your breathing and inhibiting your performance. It's no walk in the park to run or cycle with a runny nose...

The first brush with pollen and other airborne particles normally happens in your nasal passages and eyes. This allergic rhinoconjunctivitis is often underestimated and inadequately managed among top-tier athletes. A survey of 49 athletes revealed that allergic rhinoconjunctivitis was clearly more prevalent among athletes than in a control group of non-athletes and yet very few actively managed it. Another study of 2,961 Swiss athletes engaged in 68 sports found that 16.8% reported grappling with hayfever, and 59% needed medication just for the pollen season.

It's also commonplace for people with allergic rhinitis to have heightened bronchial reactivity. A 2016 study gauged the frequency of seasonal pollen allergies and the impact on performance of pro and amateur athletes. Participants were recruited from the 2014 Cologne Marathon, during the peak pollen season. 42.6% of participants reported having pollen allergies, with 30.2% also having asthma. When it came to performance, a whopping 80% of allergic runners reported a dip in their athletic performance due to pollen allergies. So a reduction in performance seems to be clear... but does that mean that pollen allergy sufferers can't keep up with top athletes?

Olympic Games, Keeping Tabs on Pollen:

A few decades back, the notion of an asthmatic athlete making a splash and snagging Olympic gold seemed far-fetched. Nowadays, though, thanks to proper diagnosis, tailored education, and optimal therapeutic strategies, allergic athletes can shine in all sporting endeavors. A physician tending to an athlete grappling with seasonal allergies must take into account the climatic trends regarding airborne allergens and adjust exercise and medication routines.

A survey of 214 Australian Olympic athletes uncovered that 20% grappled with allergic ailments during the 2000 Sydney Games. For the following Athens Olympics, intel on airborne allergens was circulated to mitigate allergic symptoms. They analysed a database spanning 15 years of airborne allergen records for their forecast. The study underscored the need for preparedness, screening, and therapy, given the elevated levels of goosefoot, mugwort, Alternaria, and Cladosporium spores during the games. Ahead of the Olympics, intel on airborne allergens was shared to optimize training regimes and minimize allergic symptoms. Nevertheless, while allergic athletes clinched medals, the adverse contribution of pollutants or allergens impacted some athletes' health and led to subpar performances.

Treating Allergies and Avoiding Unintended Doping

Keeping tabs on pollen levels, or even predicting them, is a good start. It enables athletes to tailor their training regimen to some degree, but more often than not trying to avoid pollen is impossible. 

All allergy sufferers know the drill: there are pharmaceutical molecules to combat allergy symptoms—antihistamines, corticosteroids, and the like. But for top-tier athletes some molecules are on the list of performance-enhancing substances. The challenge, therefore, lies in treating within strict guidelines, and that can be challenging. Here's a rundown of molecules used in treating allergic rhinitis.

Doping agents, treatment options and pollen allergies

Source: Sport, asthma and allergies: an increase in prevalence :


Yes, pollen allergies can affect athletic performance, but there are ways to limit the pollen's effects:

  • Choose your times: Opt for outdoor sports activities in the early morning when pollen levels tend to be lower.

  • Check pollen forecasts: Prior to getting your sweat on, peruse pollen forecasts to strategize your activities during periods of minimal pollen concentration.

  • Steer clear of risky locales: Favor enclosed spaces or air-conditioned gyms to minimize exposure to airborne pollen.

  • Don shades: Sporting sunglasses can shield your peepers from pollen, dialing down allergic conjunctivitis symptoms.

  • Rinse off post-workout: Hop in the shower post-exercise to rinse off any pollen lingering on your skin and hair.

  • Consult your doctor for what they recommend based on your allergy profile, there could be pre-work meds that might help

With that, let's get cracking; it's time to get our sweat on and go for that marathon you committed to!

 Cheers, S


I mpaired Sports Performance of Athletes Suffering from Pollen-Induced Allergic Rhinitis – A Cross-Sectional, Observational Survey in German Athletes Laura SALEM, Van-Anh DAO, Kija SHAH-HOSSEINI, Marcus DEMARéES, Jochen MESTER, Ralph MOESGES, Julia Vent The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2018 Jul 16

Seasonal Allergy and Seasonal Decrements in Athletic Performance; Hirsh D. Komarow, MDa,b, *, Teodor T. Postolache, MDb,c; Clin Sports Med 24 (2005)

A springtime Olympics demands special consideration for allergic athletes; Constance Helen Katelaris, MD, PhD,a Fiona Maree Carrozzi, RN,a Therese Valerie Burke, RN,a and Karen Byth PhDb; J ALLERGY CLIN IMMUNOL AUGUST 2000

Management of allergic Olympic athletes, KD Fitch, Management of allergic Olympic athletes 7, Volume 73 number 5. PART 2

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