Discover more from Practically Fit
You Can't Stop Pollen, You Can Only Hope To Contain It
Spring is the best season for fitness...unless you have allergies.
Alex’s note: and I took a creative break on the podcast the past few weeks, but we’ll return next Wednesday (April 12) with our episode on heart rates. On April 19, we’re planning for a special guest!
“It’s probably not a tumor,” the doctor said.
The news that I probably didn’t have a tumor in my ear was a second opinion from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist I’d visited for an examination of my clogged right ear, which had been bothering me on and off for a few years, particularly during allergy season.
My primary care doctor told me congestion from my allergies was probably clogging my eustachian tubes, the tiny tubes that connect your middle ear with the back of your throat, helping to equalize pressure in your ears and drain them. This had a particularly negative impact on my running. A clogged ear can lead to issues with balance, and the final straw was an evening run where I’d ended up so dizzy I could barely walk home.
The idea of a tumor in my ear really hadn’t crossed my mind, but thanks to the ENT, the thought was firmly planted in my psyche and would lead me down an obsessive “Dr. Google” search later that evening.
By the way, I’m guessing they came up with the acronym “ENT” because no one can pronounce “otorhinolaryngologist.” This otorhinolaryngologist’s official diagnosis for me was something called “sensorineural hearing loss.”
Translation: we don’t know what the hell is wrong with your ear, but you’ve lost a bit of hearing and it probably happened when a virus damaged your ear…maybe. Oh, and it’s probably not a tumor.
Allergies and fitness
Those of us who suffer from allergies during the spring (and fall) pollen seasons know how they can negatively affect our favorite outdoor fitness activities like running, cycling, walking and hiking.
Allergies are a widespread issue for many people. More than a quarter of U.S. adults suffer from seasonal allergies. As I write this, the national allergy map shows roughly half the country enveloped in “high” or “moderate” allergy levels. My current home, Dallas, ranks as the allergy capital of Texas and the second worst city for allergies in the United States.
And bad new for those of us over 40: allergies can get worse with aging, which mirrors my experience. I’ve had allergies all my life, but they slowly evolved from more common symptoms like runny nose and itchy eyes to chronic sinus infections and the dreaded clogged ears.
Allergy advice from the Ivy League
With all this bad news about allergies, there’s got to be a way to fight back, right?
I know: Let’s consult reliable Dr. Google!
Our top search result is a page called “Allergy Tips” from Yale University (awesome search engine optimization there, Yale). That’s an Ivy League school, so these tips are bound to be good, right?
Since I live in the allergy capital of the world, I feel I’m qualified to judge these tips. Starting with…
Keep windows in your home and car closed as much as possible to prevent pollen from drifting in.
OK, this seems like good advice. I mean, I’m in Texas, so it’s pretty hot most of the time, and we don’t really open our windows in the house, but I can definitely deprive my dog of some window time in the car if that will make a difference. What else ya got, Yale?
The best times to be outdoors are when pollen levels are lowest. Peak pollination occurs for a few hours after sunrise and during the hours after sunset.
OK, so don’t exercise outdoors during the normal times that people who work 8-5 schedules would typically exercise outdoors. Got it.
Enjoy the outdoors on rainy, cloudy and windless days. Pollen is minimized when these weather conditions exist.
Cloudy and windless days? Have you ever been to Texas?
If gardening, avoid touching your face and especially eyes.
How did they know I like to feverishly rub my face and eyes after gardening?!
Wear a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses to reduce the amount of pollen that blows into your eyes.
Wide brim hats? Who am I, Crocodile Dundee?
Use air conditioning to filter pollen from the air in your home.
I live in Texas, so I can’t imagine anyone not using air conditioning.
Shower after spending time outdoors. Pollen tends to collect in your hair and skin and ends up on your pillow which may worsen symptoms long after your exposure.
Avoid activities that cause pollen to reenter the air such as lawn mowing or leaf blowing or use a facial mask and goggles if unable to avoid this contact during these activities.
Apply and rinse your eyes with saline eye drops after being outdoors to wash away pollen.
Saline sinus rinses can bring much relief to those with chronic sinus or rhinitis problems by removing pollen from the nasal and sinus passages. Saline sinus rinse products can be purchased at the Yale Health Pharmacy or any local pharmacy. Use products as directed.
I can’t actually snark these tips. They’re solid, and I highly recommend a saline rinse using a Neti Pot, although I didn’t purchase mine at the Yale Health Pharmacy, as they don’t appear to have a branch in Dallas.
What about allergy shots?
Still, will these practical tips pollen-proof your life? In my experience, probably not. To bastardize one of sports commentator Dan Patrick’s favorite sayings, you can’t stop pollen, you can only hope to contain it.
If allergies are impacting your fitness routine, the best thing you can do is to seek treatment from an allergist. It’s made a big difference for me. While I haven’t completely rid myself of my clogged right ear, I went on a medication regimen that helped minimize my symptoms and better enjoy my time outdoors. I even kicked the recurrent sinus infections to the curb.
For the past year, I’ve also been taking allergy shots, and I’m starting to see the positive impact. It’s a three-year process, so I’m not done yet, but the fall and spring allergy seasons haven’t been as hard on me as they’d normally be. After a few years, allergy symptoms can be drastically reduced or completely eliminated.
One thing to know about allergy shots: they’re a big commitment. For the first six months, you’re getting a weekly shot (actually, I have so many allergies it’s two shots—one in each arm). The shots aren’t painful, though you do have to sign a waiver that says you hold the allergist harmless if you die of anaphylaxis. They told me this happens to like one person a year in the U.S., so not to worry! You also get a super cool EpiPen in case you do have an allergic reaction.
I’m down to shots every three weeks now, and hopefully, in a few years, allergies will be a thing of the past for me. If the shots don’t work, though, I’ve got a backup plan.
I’ll start wearing a hat with a wide brim.
Have season allergies affected your fitness routine? Share your story in the comments!