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Pollen Problems

Spring has sprung! That means flowers, butterflies—and, for an unlucky bunch of us, allergies. From itchy eyes, to runny noses to overall fatigue, seasonal symptoms can wreak havoc on your training schedule. So how can you maintain your fit-ness without leaking like a faucet?

Women’s Running caught up with Dr. Stephen Klemawesch of Allergy Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla., to find out exactly what happens when your sinuses go postal—and how to calm them down to get your running back on track.

Women’s Running: Why do allergies feel more severe during a run?
Stephen Klemawesch: Allergies act up during a run for two main reasons. First, due to an increase in respiration during exercise, a runner takes in more allergens, such as pollens and mold spores. These particles impale themselves in the eyes, nose, sinuses and lungs, where they exert their allergic mischief. Second, when you breathe heavily, the air is cooled, which causes sinuses and lungs to constrict. This happens even when you run in warm weather. In any temperature, the rapid movement of the air has a cooling effect (i.e. blowing on a spoonful of hot soup).

WR: Are allergies any different for women?
SK: There is some research to suggest that estrogen has a pro-allergenic effect. Female athletes are more likely to feel the effect prior to and with the onset of their menstrual cycle. If you have allergies, you may notice that they worsen during this time. If that’s the case, I suggest avoiding difficult workouts or races during your period.

WR: Can allergies affect running performance?
SK: Certainly. If it’s harder to breathe—it’s harder to run. Some of my patients who are world-class athletes actually move their training location based on their seasonal allergies and choose their competition sites by the same seasonal considerations. I’d recommend that even amateur athletes who suffer from allergies select a destination for a big race, like a marathon, with this in mind.

WR: What weather conditions make allergies worse?
SK: Weather can be an advantage or a deterrent for allergic athletes. Most pollens are washed out of the air by rain, but ragweed is actually released by raindrops hitting the plant. Rain also leads to an increase in mold spores. So depending on the pollen allergy, rain can help or hurt. Trail running lends greater exposure to pollen and mold allergens, whereas street running can reduce this exposure. Wherever you run, be sure to check the current mold and pollen counts before you head out the door.

WR: Can allergy attacks be  prevented during a workout?
SK: Yes! A variety of approaches work. For sinus allergies, there are medications that can be taken both regularly and prior to exercise. Antihistamines, topical nasal steroids and respiratory anti-inflammatories, like Singulair, work best when taken every day—whether you work out or not. Newer antihistamine nasal sprays, like Astepro and Patanase, can help allergy sufferers even when only taken pre-run.

WR: Are there any long-term solutions?
SK: Another option is to have allergy testing. After your allergies have been tested and identified, you can be desensitized via regular allergy drops or shots, where a small amount of an allergen is injected into your bloodstream until your build up immunity.

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Dr. Stephen Klemawesch is the owner of Allergy Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla. A lifetime runner, he’s competed in triathlons for more than 20 years and is no stranger to the  allergens that can affect an athlete.