The physical, social and mental benefits of regular exercise are well known, but how do you maintain your interest in sport and training if it is impacted by hay fever? Particularly when many of us enjoy the opportunity to train and play sport outdoors in the warmer Spring weather. Whether it’s cricket, cycling, tennis, touch rugby, running, swimming, triathlon, outdoor training, walking, jogging or running through the park at the end of the day – if you experience hay fever, all these physical activities could put you in direct contact with your hay fever triggers, including pollen and dust, and that’s not good news for your sporting performance.

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is caused by nasal and/or eye contact with environmental allergens (like pollen, dust mites, fungi or animal dander). While results of studies vary on the impact of environmental irritants in a range of sports, it is widely acknowledged that nasal health is of key importance to athletes.

Playing sport at a social, competitive or elite level requires dedication and fitness of varying levels. Regular exercise can improve mood, decrease depression, anxiety and stress, helps build and maintain a strong musculoskeletal frame and develop muscle strength and bone density1. One constant across participatory sports at all levels is the critical transfer of oxygen via the lungs and blood stream to fire the muscles.

 

How hay fever impacts performance

Hay fever impacts people differently; some experience sneezing, watery eyes, itchy nose and many experience nasal congestion. Congestion as a result of colds or hay fever may impact optimum nasal function and, as a result, can impact sports performance and also your enjoyment!

Even when the active are resting and recovering, their hay fever symptoms can result in poor sleep, anxiety and increased fatigue, which in turn may adversely affect athletic performance. To perform at your peak in sport, you also want to be at your peak in both physical and mental health and as hay fever has been shown to negatively affect sleep and mood, it has the potential to compromise sporting and athletic ability, cognitive impairment and general quality of life2.

 

Swimming

There is evidence that swimmers show increased levels of rhinitis 3. Many complain of sneezing and nasal congestion as a result of the chlorination of the water4. Chlorine compounds have been identified as a crucial factor in the development of rhinitis in swimmers5.

Running and field sports

When running we inhale greater volumes of air during exercise than when we’re sedentary and indoors, so it is reasonable to expect we may inhale greater amounts of irritants, including pollen (particularly on grass fields or high pollen areas) and as a result may have greater rates of allergic symptoms6.

 

Avoiding outdoor allergens altogether may help avoid the problem for some but this simply is unrealistic, especially when it comes to those who love outdoor pursuits. However, there’s no reason why hay fever sufferers can’t confidently maintain their participation in sport if they take a practical approach to their allergy management, for example:

  • Monitoring local pollen levels to become aware of particular days and the times of day when higher pollen counts may occur. This way you can aim to train at times when pollen count is low.
  • Try a preservative-free saline wash like Flo Sinus Care morning and night. This can help clear pollen, dust and other airborne irritants from the nose and nasal cavity. Rinsing the irritants away may also help reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms. Alternatively if you want to clear your nose whilst you are out and about, then try Flo Saline Plus Nasal Spray, a preservative-free, isotonic nasal saline spray.
  • If a very congested and blocked nose is not responding to saline washes or to healthcare recommended hay fever treatments, then it may be worth trying a preservative-free, medicated nasal decongestant spray like Flo Rapid Relief. This medicated decongestant spray is very fast acting, usually within a few minutes of use, but can only be used for a maximum of 3 days. Some decongestants maybe problematic if participating in competitive sporting events, so it is always worth checking with your doctor first about their use7.

 

Generally, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare professional and let them know about your love of sport and the importance of managing your allergy symptoms so you can compete, play and enjoy your activity and hopefully, perform at your best.

Whether you’re an elite athlete or just play tennis at the weekends, and you suffer from any hayfever symptoms, it’s worthwhile getting screened for the possibility of allergic rhinitis. Your healthcare professional can recommend a medical program tailored to your needs and can ascertain which products are appropriate.

 

References (click on links where applicable):

  1. Healthline 
  2. International Journal of Otolaryngology
  3. International Journal of Otolaryngology
  4. Ottaviano et al (2012) Nasal dysfunction induced by chlorinate water in competitive swimmers, Department of Otolaryngology, Rhinology 50: 294-298.
  5. Galazka-Franta et al (2016) Upper respiratory tract diseases in athletes in different sports disciplines, Journal of Human Kinetics Vol 53/2016
  6.  Runners Connect
  7. Rhinology Journal