Hay fever and running: what you need to know - Women's Running

How to survive hay fever season as a runner

Author: Kate Sellers

Read Time:   |  June 8, 2022

We ask GP and running expert Dr Juliet McGrattan to share what we need to know about running and hayfever, and how we can alleviate our symptoms

We should be out enjoying the beautiful spring air, but hay fever season is in full flow. For some of us, hay fever and running just don’t mix. Runny nose, streaming eyes and sneezing make running unpleasant at best, and can affect your running performance at worst. How can you cope with hay fever as a runner? What can you do to relieve hay fever symptoms?

We asked Dr Juliet McGrattan to share her top tips to help runners through the hay fever season, and answer all the questions you might have about hay fever.

Juliet’s quick tips for avoiding hay fever as a runner

  • Run on days when the pollen count is lowest, ideally early in the morning
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses to run, and pop some Vaseline at the base of your nostrils
  • Take off your running kit and brush or wash your hair as soon as you get home
  • If you take medication for hay fever, try to start taking it before the season starts to get the most protection
  • Speak to your GP if hay fever is causing you problems with breathing

Read on for Juliet’s answers to all your hay fever questions…

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is caused by the body reacting to airborne pollen. It’s also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis.

What are the symptoms?

Sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, headaches.

When is hay fever season?

Hay fever can affect us any time between March and September. When you specifically will be affected is due to the type of pollen you are allergic to – tree, grass or weed.

When is the pollen count highest?

The amount of pollen in the air varies from day to day. It’s lowest after rain and on still days when the wind isn’t blowing it around. You can follow the UK pollen forecast from the Met Office to get a more accurate indicator of expected pollen counts.

When should I run to avoid hay fever?

Plan your runs on days when the count is lowest. There’s day time variation too, so experiment and see what works best for you. Very early morning runs are usually a good option.

What should I wear on my runs to reduce hay fever symptoms?

Minimise the amount of pollen that comes into contact with your face. Wear a hat with a brim – this will keep pollen out of your hair, and stop it from aggravating you later in the day. Wrap-around running sunglasses will help to stop itchy eyes. Put a blob of Vaseline (or hay fever balm) at your nostrils to trap pollen.

What should I do after my run?

As soon as you get back from your run, strip off, wash your kit and shower and wash your hair. Dry your clothes inside rather than on a washing line where they’ll pick up more pollen. You can use a saline (salt water) nasal flush to wash out your nasal passages. Generally keeping your house clean (especially hoovered) and keeping the windows closed can help minimise pollen exposure too.

What is the best medication for hay fever?

Speak to your pharmacist about how to manage your hay fever with the many products available. You can either target specific problem areas such as your eyes or nose or use medications that work throughout the body. You can also use a combination of both.
Here are some of the options available:

  • Anti-histamine eye drops
  • Mast-cell stabilising eye drops (e.g sodium cromoglicate)
  • Anti-histamine nasal drops
  • Corticosteroid based nasal sprays and drops
  • Nasal decongestants – can only be used for a week
  • Anti-histamine tablets – a wide range of these are available without a prescription
  • Corticosteroid tablets – for emergency short term use and only when prescribed by a doctor
  • Immunotherapy treatment – severe and persistent symptoms can be treated in a specialist centre where you are intentionally exposed to tiny amounts of pollen to improve the way your body reacts to it.
  • Nasal plugs and filters
  • Intra nasal phototherapy – there’s not enough evidence about the effectiveness and safety of this yet for it to be recommended.

When should I start taking hay fever medicine?

While you can use hay fever treatments as and when required, if you’re recurrently affected, it’s good to be pro-active. Start the treatments before you need them and take them regularly to keep the symptoms away.

How does hay fever affect asthma?

If you suffer from asthma, you may find that your asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are worse with exposure to pollen. If this happens, it’s important to see your asthma nurse or GP to discuss your treatment.

Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Kate is our Senior Digital Executive and a keen runner. She's also a qualified Personal Trainer and yoga teacher, so she knows her stuff about workouts, cross-training and stretching. She loves to combine running and exploring, so you'll often find her testing out the latest kit in exciting locations across the UK and beyond. Kate champions exercising for enjoyment. "Most of the year, you'll find me running for fun and wellbeing," she says. "That being said, I do still love the thrill of training for a race from time to time!"

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