Spring is coming to our area, which means warmer weather, blooming flowers, green grass and, for many, seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are caused by pollen produced by plants. Tree pollen is most often involved in the spring, while grass and ragweed are most often involved in the summer and fall respectively. Allergy symptoms - watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, congestion and coughing - can appear within 5 to 10 minutes of exposure in susceptible individuals and last for several hours.
Seasonal allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system to pollen. Inhaled pollen acts as an allergen, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, including IgE. Antibodies are produced whenever the immune system encounters a foreign antigen, whether it is a virus or pollen. IgE stimulates specialized cells in the airways, called mast cells, to produce histamines, which cause the familiar symptoms of seasonal allergies. This is the same process that causes allergies to dust mites, animal dander and certain foods.
Because histamines are an important step in triggering an allergic response, seasonal allergies can be treated with antihistamine medications such as fexofenadine (Allegra), loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Some antihistamines also contain a decongestant (Claritin-D, for example).
Allergy symptoms can be reduced by reducing exposure to pollen. This means keeping home and car windows closed and minimizing outdoor activities when pollen levels are highest, especially in the early morning, on windy days and when pollen counts are high. You can also use an air freshener to reduce indoor allergens. air purifier Pollen levels are often indicated in the weather forecast.
People often ask if it is safe to exercise if they have seasonal allergies. In most cases, the answer is yes. Allergy symptoms are generally similar to those of a cold, so the usual advice about exercising for a cold applies as well: If the symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing), you can exercise safely. That said, allergy symptoms are based on exposure to pollen and the more you inhale, the worse your symptoms become. As your breathing increases significantly during exercise, so does your exposure to pollen.
In some cases, exercising with allergies can have serious effects. Exercise-induced bronchospasm, also known as exercise-induced asthma, is a condition that affects the majority of people with asthma, many of whom also have seasonal allergies. Exercise-induced bronchospasm is thought to be caused by cooling and drying of the airways due to high ventilation during exercise or exposure to particles in the air, usually pollutants or pollen. EIB causes the airways to constrict, severely restricting the flow of air into the lungs. For this reason, asthmatics typically wear a rescue inhaler (bronchodilator) during exercise.
Interestingly, EIB also occurs in athletes, including those who compete in the Olympics. It is more common in athletes competing in outdoor winter events (cooling and drying of the airways) and indoor ice events (pollutants from ice resurfacing equipment). With careful warm-up and the use of certain approved medications, athletes with allergies and EIB can compete successfully at an elite level.
Since most of us don't reach the exertional level of athletes, there's no reason to let seasonal allergies keep you from exercising. You may be able to exercise outdoors on days when pollen counts are lower, especially if you do lower-intensity exercise such as walking. Antihistamine medications can help relieve symptoms and should not interfere with exercise. If you feel comfortable returning to the gym, walking on a treadmill or indoor track or participating in a group exercise class are great ways to stay active on days when outdoor exercise doesn't work. With a few precautions, you can and should exercise even if you have seasonal allergies.