Training with hayfever; making the most of your sports performance

Training with hayfever

The physical, social and mental benefits of regular exercise are well known, but how do you maintain your interest if it’s hampered by hayfever? Particularly in the warmer Spring months when the opportunity to train and exercise outdoors is more tempting. Whether it’s cricket, cycling, tennis, touch rugby, running, swimming, triathlon, outdoor training, walking, jogging through the park, all these physical activities could put you in direct contact with hayfever triggers, including pollen and dust. Not good news for your sporting performance! Even if you wear a face mask whilst exercising, it’s unlikely it will remove all particles from the air.

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.

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

How hayfever impacts performance

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

Even when resting and recovering, hayfever 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. However, hayfever 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.

What steps can I take to help manage my hayfever?

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 hayfever sufferers can’t confidently maintain their participation in sport if they take a practical approach to their allergy management, for example:

  1. 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.
  2. Help clear pollen, dust and other airborne irritants from the nose and nasal cavity by using a preservative-free saline wash like Flo Sinus Care morning and night. Rinsing the irritants away may also help reduce the severity of hayfever symptoms. Alternatively if you want to clear your nose whilst you are out and about, then try Flo Saline Plus Nasal Spray or Flo Nasal Mist Both preservative-free, isotonic nasal saline sprays are available through most Australian pharmacies.
  3. If your nose is very blocked, try a preservative-free, medicated nasal decongestant spray e.g. 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.
  4. If you’re experiencing nasal and eye symptoms from hayfever, a fast-acting, preservative-free antihistamine nasal spray could benefit. Eze Allergy works by blocking the action of histamine and reducing some of the tissue reactions which lead to nasal and eye symptoms. National Guidelines also recommend using a nasal saline or wash BEFORE using medicated nasal sprays like antihistamine or corticosteroid nasal sprays.

Talk to the experts!

Generally, it is a good idea to talk to your health 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.

If you suffer from asthma, remember that both asthma and allergic rhinitis are closely linked.For patients with hayfever and asthma,  Asthma Australia has developed a free Spring Asthma Pack with useful advice and common sense tips to help through the Spring season . The promoted pack is available at https://asthma.org.au/your-spring-asthma-pack/

! Always read the label. Follow directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, consult your health professional.

References:

  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 
  8. Australian Asthma Handbook: https://www.asthmahandbook.org.au/clinical-issues/allergies/allergic-rhinitis/adults-adolescents