Hay fever can be a nightmare for cyclists, but there are effective steps you can take to reduce symptoms and keep riding explains Vicky Ware

The summer months are for many a chance to get out and ride in long daylight hours, but for others summer heralds the onset of hay fever, when the pollen count rises and makes cycling less than fun.

Max Wiseberg of HayMax allergen barrier balm says that “any exercise makes you breathe harder, which will lead to you getting more pollen through your nose,” which triggers and exacerbates symptoms.

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As your immune system responds to pollen grains as a potential threat, the more pollen you breathe in, the greater the immune response. Using a barrier cream in the nasal passage can reduce hay fever symptoms.

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“Allergen barrier balms trap a portion of the pollen before it gets in to the nose. As long as this takes you below your trigger level for the allergen, then your hay fever reactions won’t be triggered,” Wiseberg says.

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The essentials

  • Take medication early
  • Use a nasal pollen barrier
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Ride when pollen is low
  • Eat omega-3 fats

If a barrier isn’t enough, you may find antihistamine medication helps. However, it’s best to start taking this well before you have any allergic symptoms. Once symptoms are present, your immune system has already had the chance to ramp up an army of cells which release histamine, giving you a runny nose, itchy watery eyes and potentially feelings of foggy thinking and fatigue.

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By taking medication daily well before the pollen season, you dampen the immune system’s ability to produce histamine — well before it has decided pollen is the enemy.

Try to avoid riding at peak pollen times — particularly peak times for the pollen you’re allergic to. Monitor your symptoms online (there are apps and websites for this) to find out which pollen types your symptoms coincide with.

Training plans

Plant species release pollen at different times of day and year; by finding out whether you react more to grass or tree pollen, and even which species of tree, you’ll be able to plan your daily training to miss the peak. It’s very unlikely you are allergic to all types of pollen.

Get your clothing right in changeable conditions

Eating a well-balanced diet is another factor that can’t be underestimated where allergies are concerned. Focusing on getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids may improve your allergy symptoms.

In the western world, people tend to eat too many omega-6 fats and too few omega-3, which can lead to an imbalanced immune system prone to over-reaction. Omega-3 oils are  found in abundance in oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed.

Key points

Cycling in hot weather

Keep on top of your hay fever with these top tips

Hay fever can give you itchy, puffy, watery and light-sensitive eyes. Wearing sunglasses not only keeps the light out but also reduces the amount of pollen being blown into your eyes while cycling.

Your clothes, hair and skin will have picked up pollen grains while you were outside cycling, so shower and get changed as soon as possible after riding to keep your exposure to pollen grains as low as possible.

Keep weekly hours to a minimum, especially at times of day when you know your allergies are worst. Every hour you’re exposed to pollen will increase your hay fever symptoms.

Early morning and dusk tend to have the highest pollen counts, so if possible avoid riding at these times of day. If you have to, keep the duration and intensity low.

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Dry your normal clothes and bed sheets indoors during pollen season to stop them picking up pollen grains, which you’ll then be exposed to all day (and night).

Get enough sleep. Although hay fever is ‘just’ an allergic reaction, your body is responding as though there is a real threat, such as an infection. This takes energy, so you might need more recovery from training than usual.

If you want to do more intensive training but pollen leaves you wheezy, turbo training indoors might be the way forwards.

  • llos25

    I suffer from a runny nose in winter and hay fever in summer no matter what I take it is just the same so I have learnt over the years to live with it.

  • Michael

    It’s immunity that’s the problem, you are hoping the honey will desensitise the immune response, not “build immunity”

    Seems like mostly placebo or myth at the moment. It’s unlikely Bees have taken pollen from the grasses and trees that trigger a reaction and therapies that use pollen to desensitise use far larger amounts that you’d get from a spoonful of honey.

  • Phil Tighe

    Isn’t this about about 4 months too late?

  • Smitty

    As well as starting medication before the start of the season, make absolutely sure you take it every day. Skipping days here and there make it much less effective. I would suffer really badly through June and July if I were not taking medication, but I start in May (tablet and nasal spray), take the medication daily, and then my hayfever is pretty much completely controlled through the summer (appreciate others may suffer worse than me).
    I have also very recently heard good things about reflexology to overcome hayfever. But I have not yet tried that – perhaps next year.

  • David Williams

    I second the comment about local honey. I used to need 2 hayfever tablets a day in summer otherwise id be a mess, so far this year ive not had to have any. One spoonful a day and make sure you start before summer, around March time, so your body builds up immunity

  • linnefaulk

    Taking LOCAL, raw honey can help with allergies.