Hay fever: how can I keep training and racing?

Suffer with hay fever? Here's some advice on how to prevent and treat attacks so you can keep racing and training during the summer months, from respiratory specialist, Dr James Hull

Credit: Martin Leigh / Getty Images

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is the generic term used to describe a number of allergic symptoms that typically arise from exposure to grass pollen. Most individuals notice nasal symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discomfort and itch and congestion – this is also termed seasonal rhinitis.


What causes an attack?

Typically, hay fever symptoms start in the context of increasing pollen counts. Sensitised (i.e. atopic or allergic individuals) then start to develop their classic hay fever symptoms, which will be present (variably) on most days until the pollen count falls or the individual takes treatment or removes themselves from the pollen environment.

How can triathletes prevent hay fever attacks and treat symptoms?

Generally I recommend an approach with the acronym PEAK:

P – Prepare/Prevent This includes working out when you are affected each year. For example, those with a tree pollen allergy are affected earlier in the year, so you need to act earlier – see below. Don’t wait to get into crisis mode and then try and scramble for treatment. Stock up on treatments.

E – Eliminate Try and avoid pollen exposure. Dry your kit indoors, wash your hair after a pollen-exposed training session, train when pollen count is forecast to be low (or indoors if forecast to be high), wear wrap-around sunnies, used nasal ointment to catch pollen, and use nasal cotton wool if warming up on a turbo before racing outside.

A – Act early Start anti-histamines around the time your symptoms might first start, use nasal douching with saline to wash away pollen, and use nasal sprays, but beware of some prohibited treatments by anti-doping rules. Avoid sedating antihistaimes.

K– Keep on top/re-evaluate Don’t just stop doing the treatments because symptoms go away – the pollen count may rise and then you’ll be affected again. If it does persist then see an allergist because you may be suitable for desnsitisation.

Do athletes have to worry about the medication they take in case it tests positive?

UK Anti-doping has a really nice infographic with everything an athlete needs to know, and the vast majority of standardly prescribed treatment is NOT prohibited. BUT, prednisolone, triamcinolone and some decongestants tablets are prohibited. Athletes should check with UKAD +/- www.globaldro.com

Does hay fever get worse as you get older? And is it hereditary?

The vast majority have symptoms from early childhood and there’s an interaction between genetics and probably environmental exposure. The other thing is that people might move to new areas where they become sensitised.


Dr James Hull is a respiratory specialist at The Centre for Health & Human Performance (CHHP) www.CHHP.com

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