Hay fever can make running miserable. The pleasure of going outside for a run is followed by itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and sneezing. It’s really not fun!
The fourth C is CHAT and that means talk to your pharmacist about what’s available for you to buy over the counter. Most cases of hay fever can be controlled with products you can get without a prescription. It’s always wise to speak to the pharmacist to make sure what you plan to use is suitable for you, especially if you have ongoing medical conditions, are pregnant or take other medications which hay fever remedies might interact with. At the very least, read the box and the patient information leaflet inside.
There are so many products available, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are my top 5 hay fever relief products for adult runners:
1. Nasal steroid sprays and drops – If a runny nose and sneezing are your main issues, try a nasal steroid. You can use a spray or drops alone or in combination with an antihistamine to reduce inflammation in the lining of your nose. They are the best first step for nasal hay fever symptoms. Check with the pharmacist if you’re using other steroid based medications including steroid inhalers for asthma. They aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant. Beclometasone is an example nasal steroid, a common brand name is Beconase. Fluticasone (common brand name is Flixonase) is also now available to buy over the counter.
Top tips – Nasal steroids don’t work straight away, you need to use them regularly for about two weeks to get the most effect. Check the instructions and blow your nose before you spray it into your nostrils. Start a week or two before your worst symptoms kick in.
2. Nasal antihistamine sprays – If nasal symptoms are the ones that are bothering you the most, then before you reach for the antihistamine tablets you can try a nasal antihistamine. Azelastine is the most commonly available. This can work a bit more quickly than a tablet antihistamine. Rhinolast is a common brand name.
Top tip – You can get a nasal spray which contains both azelastine and a nasal steroid.
3. Eye drops – Watery, itchy eyes can be a nightmare, they’re so irritating. You can buy drops which soothe the eyes and reduce inflammation. A great one to try is sodium cromoglycate drops . They help to reduce the release of histamine which causes the allergic symptoms and you can use one drop up to four times a day. If you wear contact lenses speak to your optician before you use any eye drops.
Top tip – Don’t share your eye drop bottle with someone else – it can lead to eye infections.
4. Oral antihistamines – Taken by mouth, these are absorbed into the blood stream and will work throughout your body so they’ll reduce symptoms wherever they are. They’re good to add in when the targeted (nose or eyes) treatment hasn’t reduced symptoms enough. Examples include Chlorphenamine (also known as Piriton – it may make you drowsy), Loratadine, Cetirizine and, most recently available over the counter, Fexofenadine. Check the label for how often to take them, most are a once daily dose. The shouldn’t make you drowsy but see how they affect you.
Top tip – Look for the drug name rather than the brand; supermarket cetirizine for example is perfectly fine and will cost a lot less than some other brands. Shop around, there is a lot of variety in price.
5. Hay fever balms Something to add to your running belt. Hay fever balms trap pollen before it enters the nose and eyes. Dab on a bit of balm at the entrance to your nostrils and also around your eye socket (don’t get it near your eyes) to help reduce the pollen that enters your body. You can use plain old petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or there are a range of balms to try. Hay Max sent me some samples last year and my sneezy, running son really liked them, especially as they aren’t too greasy, smell nice and are drug-free.
Top tip – If you’re still struggling, you can try washing out your nasal passages with saline irrigation after you’ve run. The evidence isn’t amazing but it’s unlikely to cause harm and might ease things a bit.
These are my ‘go-to’ products that I can get over the counter for my family. There are others available, some of which you need a prescription for. Don’t just rely on the medications – do what you can to avoid the pollen – see the 4C’s above.
Remember, if you have asthma and your symptoms are worse during the hay fever season, speak to your asthma nurse or doctor so they can adjust your treatment.
If you’re struggling with your symptoms and over the counter medications aren’t helping then see your doctor. Severe cases can be referred for immunotherapy.
There are other tips like these in my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now.