Wellness

Ask the Expert: How Do I Exercise Outside If I Have Allergies?

Stacey Gray, Director of the Sinus Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, shares her tips.


Welcome to our Ask the Expert series, in which local health and fitness experts answer your wellness questions. Here, Stacey Gray discusses outdoor exercise when you have allergies. Got a question of your own? Email tyannone@bostonmagazine.com


Yoga while outside

Photo via iStock.com/Ridofranz.

As the weather finally begins to cooperate and exercise routines head outdoors, are you left staring out the window with major feelings of FOMO, for fear that the pollen in the air will set off a dramatic string of allergic reactions? Nervous about suffering puffy eyes, a nose that won’t stop running, or itchy skin from contact with just one blade of grass?

We asked Stacey Gray, the Director of the Sinus Center at Mass. Eye and Ear, for her expert advice on the matter so you’re no longer sitting on the sidelines with a box of tissues and a neti pot. Get ready to partake in all sorts of springtime fun, like your adult soccer league, runs along hidden gem routes in the city, or one of the many free outdoor fitness classes offered during the summer.

Ask the Expert: How Do I Exercise Outside if I have Allergies? 

Answer: Get tested to know exactly what you’re allergic to and avoid the times of season/day when the allergen is the highest. 

The details: 

“Part of the problem for exercisers with allergies is that their nose gets so congested,” says Gray. “Making it very unpleasant, or impossible, to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth—like most exercise suggests.”

She also explains that some people who have allergies will also have asthma, which can come with wheezing and shortness of breath. “The best thing, if you have allergies, is actually knowing what you’re allergic to and the season that allergen is the worst,” says Gray.

During early spring and summer the pollen in the air is higher because of all the trees and plants that are flowering, she explains. But fall is when weeds are most prevalent, and particularly ragweed, which is very common around here. Gray says with a quick Google search you can find plenty of resources that display pollen count, while many media outlets will tell you what the pollen count is going to be for the day.

You might even experience some relief from the pollen in the air after a heavy rain, she offers.

“Avoidance is the best thing with outdoor allergies,” Gray says. “But also, if you know you’ll be outside, taking an antihistamine or nasal spray will help.”

For those who just can’t avoid the great outdoors during sweet, sweet summertime (we empathize), Gray says wearing a hat and sunglasses can serve as protection from pollen. “It’s also helpful to take a shower right as you come in from being outside or to use a nasal saline rinse to get rid of any allergens you may be carrying in from outside,” she says.

If you’ve read thus far, experience these symptoms, but have no idea what you’re actually allergic to, Gray recommends seeing an allergist to have a skin prick test or blood test to get to the bottom of what is actually causing your discomfort. You can’t avoid what you don’t know exists. And at the end of the day we all just want to enjoy the plethora of outdoor activities that grace Boston each summer.