You’re finally out the door for a brisk walk, jumping around in your gym class or bouncing your ball on the netball court and before you know it you’re searching for a tissue. Just a quick question. Why does exercise make your nose run? How can you stop that exercise related runny nose? Is there any treatment for a nose that runs when you exercise?
The medical term for this annoying drippy nose is rhinitis. The word rhinitis comes from the Greek words rhin which means nose and itis which means inflammation. Along with a runny nose you might also get sneezing and watery, itchy eyes. There are lots of different causes of rhinitis, the most common are allergic rhinitis (think hay fever and pet allergies) and infective rhinitis (aka the common cold). Rhinitis can also be triggered by irritants; house dust and chlorine in pool water are good examples which drive my nose insane! Cold air can be a trigger so exercising outside, particularly in winter, often causes a runny nose. Sometimes the cause is purely exercise itself, this is called exercise-induced rhinitis. It doesn’t matter if you are inside or outside, in warm or cold air, it just triggers your nose to run – this is pure exercise-induced rhinitis and it’s common, especially in people who have nasal allergies.
Our body is pretty clever, producing more mucous is a great way to trap any dirt, dust and germs that we might breathe in when we start breathing heavily during exercise; it’s one of our body’s defence mechanisms. Secondly, when we exercise, our body tries to get as much air in as possible, to give us maximum oxygen intake to fuel our efforts. One of the ways it does this is to open up the nasal passages to increase air flow but unfortunately, by doing this it means there is increased exposure to nasal irritants which is bad news for those who suffer with nasal allergies.
So, what can you do to stop your exercise induced runny nose?
1). Spot the trigger.
Working out what your trigger is can help you to reduce your symptoms by minimising exposure to the trigger.
Is it allergy related? If it’s seasonal and related to pollen (hay fever) then you need to reduce your contact with the allergen. Covering your nose and mouth with a scarf, wearing wrap around sun glasses and showering soon after exercise will help. Another blog on this topic will follow but you might choose to exercise indoors when the pollen count is at its highest.
If cold air is your trigger then simply warming the air before you breathe it in can help. You can do this by wearing a buff-type neck scarf that you simply pull up to cover your nose and mouth. This will ease your symptoms if polluted air irritates your nose too and you might want to choose to exercise away from busy roads or avoid rush hour.
Chlorine is a big trigger for me. I struggle with sneezing and a runny nose for hours after a swim, even when I’ve rinsed off well in the shower. Many pools now use ozone and other techniques to sanitise water and reduce the amount of chlorine used so swimming is going back on my training plan again.
2). Visit your pharmacist.
Your pharmacist can give you advice on what is available over the counter that you can use to ease rhinitis. Medications include antihistamine nasal sprays, steroid nasal sprays and antihistamine tablets (if the cause is allergic) and most are available without a prescription. Your pharmacist can help you work out which would be best for you.
3). Stock up on tissues.
Pure exercise-induced rhinitis is hard to resolve. Sometimes we just have to accept that that’s how it is! Did you know that some sports gloves – for skiing, cycling and running, have absorbable pads on them for wiping your nose? Pack tissues in your gym bag, running belt or up your sleeve. I can’t bring myself to try it but there’s always the ‘snot rocket’ but please do check there’s no one close behind you!
If you seem to have a persistent rhinitis which isn’t exercise related then see your GP for advice.
There are more answers to questions like these and lots of health information to help you lead a happy and active life in my book Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health.
Disclaimer: I can’t give personal medical advice and as always with health advice, reading something online doesn’t replace seeing your doctor who knows your medical history and can assess you in person. So, if you are unsure then always seek the opinion of a health care professional.
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