Hay fever: All you need to know

Hay fever and running - ensure hay fever doesn't affect your performance with these tips

by Ben Palfreyman
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Q: What is hay fever?

A: Hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis caused by an overreaction of the body's immune system to pollen. The allergen causes inflammation on the inside of the nose and spreads to the sinuses, eyes and throat. You can be allergic to tree pollen (released in spring), grass pollen (released from the end of spring to the start of summer) and weed pollen (released in late autumn).

Q: Why do I suffer from it?

A: Jean Emberlin, researcher and author of the study Hay fever and sport, says, "the UK has one of the highest prevalence rates in the world, with about 25% of the population having hay fever." This means that in England alone there are probably over 10 million people suffering at the same time as you. However, it is more likely you'll suffer if there is a history of asthma or eczema in the family.

Q: How can hay fever affect my running performance?

A: Hay fever can weaken nasal flow by up to 80%, impairing breathing and adversely affecting your cardiovascular performance. It also affects your concentration, as the body is more tired thanks to the immune system working overtime.

Marlon Devonish, Athens 4 x 100m Olympic gold medallist, suffers from chronic hay fever. "I'm so allergic to pollen in the air, it causes my chest to tighten when I run," he says. "If I don't manage my hay fever carefully, it can seriously affect my performance on the track."

Sneezing regularly during a race can also affect your time as one sneeze closes the eyes for a full second, upsetting your pacing. One sneeze every 60 seconds could add a minute to your 10K time or four minutes to a marathon - and it could destroy a sprinter's race.

Q: What can I do if it's affecting my training?

A: The symptoms of hay fever are often intensified by high air pollution in towns and cities so if you can, try running away from central areas. Research has found that keeping 300 metres away from main roads can hugely decrease the amount of pollution in the air and leave you feeling in better health.

Look out for areas that have less vegetation than others. If you live in London, leave the parks behind and try running along the Thames embankment where there's lower air pollution and less pollen. Wearing sunglasses while you run can also help reduce the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.

Changing your daily schedule might be inconvenient but can make all the difference. Because plants release their pollen in the early morning and late afternoon, these are the worst times to go out. Unfortunately, before and after work are also often the most convenient times to run. If you can, take your running gear to the office and get out for a lunchtime run - though make sure you are well hydrated at the warmest time of the day.

Q: What should I do before a race?

A: It's always best to get a good night's sleep before a race, but hay fever sufferers need to be especially diligent as sleep is a crucial way to strengthen the immune system.

Q: What should I do after going for a run?

A: Like mud, pollen sticks... to your clothing, your hair and if you have pets, your dog's, cat's or horse's hair. Professor Emberlin suggests avoiding hanging out your running kit to dry on high pollen days, as pollen will settle on it and affect your next run. If you have pets, brush their hair or fur and give them regular baths. If you go for a run after work, it's a good idea to have a shower first.

Q: How can I find out if it's a high pollen day?

A: Go to the Met Office website for pollen forecasts.

Q: Can I eat to relieve the symptoms?

A: Yes, you can. And monitoring your vitamin intake can make all the difference.

Vitamin A is crucial to maintaining the stability of your mucous membrane (by which we mean the lining on the inside of your nose). Trade white potato for sweet potato, supplement meat dishes with kidney and eat plenty of fresh vegetables such as spinach and pumpkin.

Vitamin B5 works hard to reduce allergic symptoms and a healthy 100mg a day will help to ward off the fever. Eggs, meat and peanut butter are all good sources, though be careful when preparing food over the summer - this fragile vitamin breaks down easily in heat.

Sufficient zinc intake is especially important for feeding your immune system - good sources of zinc include shellfish and all bran cereal, though not necessarily at the same time! 100mg of magnesium will also help - handily, you'll find it in any green vegetables.

Still hungry? Eating local honey is believed to relieve hay fever symptoms. Because the honey contains a small amount of local pollen, it acts as an inoculation to ward off hay fever symptoms.

Q: What supplements could I take?

A: If you are eating healthily, you should be getting all the goodness that you need. But it wouldn't hurt to take cod liver oil and garlic supplements which will give you a good dose of vitamin A from the cod liver, while the allicin in garlic is good for fighting viral infection.

Q: What can I do to avoid suffering from hay fever?

A: Professor Emberlin advises, "Talk to your GP or pharmacist about treatments and remedies. Because of problems with some medications consider using inert gels and natural barrier treatments such as Care Allergy Defence - this has no known side effects or interactions with other medication. This means that even if you are pregnant or are intolerant to other medicines, you can still use it."

If that doesn't work, run to the hills. According to the Professor Emberlin, coastal and hilly areas are the best places to be because they have low levels of hay fever-exacerbating air pollution.

By the time you're reading this it may be too late, but starting your hay fever treatment before the season is highly advisable, according to researchers at the University of Oslo's Centre for Immune Regulation.

Q: I just want 10 minutes' respite. Help!

A: We'd love to dazzle you with science here, but Professor Emberlin has a simple yet effective method. Shut all your windows and sit still on the sofa for 20 minutes. By the end of playing sleeping lions, the dust will have settled and you should be breathing in pollen-free air.

Q: Is there a cure?

A: In a word? No. But there are ways of treating it including antihistamine tablets, eye drops and nose sprays. If your symptoms get really bad you may be able to get a treatment called immunotherapy, which gradually increases the sufferer's exposure to the allergen under careful supervision. This can reduce the severity of the reaction - but it doesn't work for everyone.

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Discuss this article

Try a HAYBAND for relief from hayfever - you strap it over your arm and it works on the acupressure point on the inside of the elbow. There are similar products that deal with sea sickness and morning sickness. 

I bought one last year and this year- it was only a tenner and there are a load of companies on the internet that sell them. It does not take the symptoms away completely but i found it takes the edge off and the hayfever is not as bad as it would be without one.

I used to use over the counter tablets - they didn't take the symptoms away completely and I found they just made me fall asleep (even the non drowsy ones!!!), which was no good when driving, at work or when wanting to go for a run. I found this was better as you are not ingesting any chemicals and over the course of the hayfever season costs less (it is £9.99 and as you wear it you only need one)

I suggested it to people at work and they've found it works as well. You just have to cope with every other person asking what that strap is on your arm thinking you have hurt your elbow (and then laughing at you and calling you weird!!!) - a small price to pay for reducing the symptoms by about 85%.(ish)

It may not be for everyone but after years of suffering it is the best thing I have used.

Posted: 18/06/2010 at 20:37

For temporary relief, try placing a cold, damp flannel across the bridge of your nose. It's especially effective if you're in the midst of a sneezing fit. it should stop you sneezing, your nose running and your eyes itching, albeit only for a little while. Also, I've found ice-lollies can help, the coldness stunes your body into not reacting to the allegen.
Posted: 22/06/2010 at 12:13

I use prescription tablets.  I get them from the doctor in Wales so they cost nothing for a year.  They take away 100% of my symptoms.  I've suggested them to people in work and they've found they work as well.  You don't have to cope with anyone asking you silly questions.

Other workmates have found that an air-conditioned office works as a very good respite from the worst symptoms, though the side-effect of using a workplace is the drowsiness that can affect you in the early afternoon.  Just be sure not to be doing anything that requires concentration during this period!

You can find offices all over the internet.  If you're out shopping a bank is a very useful alternative.

Posted: 22/06/2010 at 12:27

I have always suffered with chronic hay fever and had tried lots of tablets and sprays over the years but none ever seemed to work that well.  Last year I started using HayMax and it's absolutely fantastic.  You just apply a small amount around the nostrils.  No drowsiness, no sneezing, no itchy eyes! You can buy it at most large supermarkets or chemists.
Posted: 22/06/2010 at 12:29

I have started immunotherapy - first year, two more to go. will let you know. although it seems a bit better. I am also taking Benadryl Acrivastine (lasts for 8 hours). really good
Posted: 22/06/2010 at 20:41

Two suggestion made on BBC Breakfast last week were: a) take a spoonful of honey every day - it apparently builds up natural immunity and b) rub a small amount of petroleum jelly into each nostril - it forms a protective layer on the nasal membrane. 
Posted: 29/06/2010 at 18:32

I've always heard that the honey should be local as it builds immunity to local flowers.

Although reading that back it seems a little Daily Mail, raging against that nasty immigrant pollen. 

Posted: 29/06/2010 at 18:49

My 7 year old daughter suffers quite badly with hayfever - now in its 3rd year.  I read online that using light therapy helps and have bought the below and its painless and she has only used it a few days but seems to work.  Search online for other people who have had success!

Light therapy. Light therapy is based on the idea of using red light to desensitise nasal passages in a bid to defend you from allergic reactions and reduce inflammation.


Best buy: Allergy Reliever, £10 (usually £39.99).
In store & online, Lloyds Pharmacy

Until 1 July, Lloyds Pharmacy* is offering its new Allergy Reliever for £10 both in store and online, saving £29.99 on full price. The branded version of this treatment, 'Medinose', comes at a cost of around £40 (Amazon), so this is a much cheaper alternative.

It's important to note though that, as with any non-medical treatment, the results of this are mixed.

Posted: 29/06/2010 at 23:33

My son and I have found that local honey works really well.  I am a fairly mild sufferer but my son has suffered really badly for a number of years and only managed to get through the hay fever season with antihistamine, steroid nasal spray and eye drops - even with all that it only slightly eased the symptoms.

We started eating local honey during the summer, just a teaspoon several times a week (mixed in with greek yogurt is delicious) and come the following year I was able to ditch the antihistamine completely and my son now gets by with just antihistamine.

We were recommended a local honey where the bees collected nectar from apple and oil seed rape as this is what we are surrounded by where we live.  It's certainly helped us to survive the summer more comfortably.

Posted: 03/07/2010 at 21:19

It's not something you'd take for hayfever, but wearing contact lenses helps protect my eyes from the pollen. I don't get the itchy eyes at all anymore - it even helps when chopping onions!
Posted: 07/07/2010 at 13:36


I found this in the Daily Express last week, am gonna try this Qu-Chi acupressure band. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Qu-Chi-Acupressure-Band-Clinically-Hayfever/dp/B001F0QBOS

Posted: 13/07/2010 at 11:59

I can also vouch for the phototherapy device. It has been clinically trialled and independently assessed and is shown to be effective for most people. I tried it for the first time this year during the very warm spell we had recently (am still using it) and have had hardly any symptoms at all.

Posted: 28/07/2010 at 14:43

My pace has droppe doff significantly since hayfeaver season started. I have been training all winter, did a half marathon in March and now I can barely keep the pace up for 6k!!! Is anyone else in the same boat? Please tell me just to make me fell better.
Posted: 22/04/2011 at 10:02

The recent expanding introduction of oil seed rape to farms resulted in my developing hayfever to an exposure to this yellow blight that has invaded the countrysde. I was able to run anwhere near the damn stuff(100m) and as all my training(50miles plus weekly) is usually in the countryside route planning became avoid the oil seed in bloom. This was hard as it seemed to bloom all year round; thank God the increase in the price of wheat has ment farmers are now actually growing crops not a chemical weapon. I digress, an article in an American running mag highlighted the benefits of the Bee and its product:. Honey, Pollen, royal jelly and propolis. I now take these daily and my training  energy drink is made of; honey, orange and water. All my hayfever symptons have vanished and I can even run through the damn oilseed fields with out need of a gas mask. So go for the Bee solution bin the drugs. Yours in sport Brendan
Posted: 07/03/2012 at 13:22

I am one the sufferer . I have tried most of method to get inmune to hayfever fever. I  aml stiill trying to find an answer to get immue to hay fever. Last year I with will power never took any tablet or any other methods except honey with porridge ( natural sugar ). It workked . I nearly got immue to it . You still feel bit but my body nearly got immuned . With 2012 summer comming  see if it work again this year.

keep you posted

Posted: 08/03/2012 at 09:40

A year on and I have the same probs. Marathon next week and all was going well until hayfever set in. My lungs feel like they just won't cope with the distance. Did you find anything to help? I'm pretty worried now.
Posted: 12/04/2012 at 16:23

For the last 2 years I have been eating honey at least 5 times a week, any cheap brand, and  I havent suffered the spring hayfever this year or last year.

Posted: 30/05/2016 at 21:07

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