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Running with Hayfever
Episode 516th May 2021 • She Runs Eats Performs • Runners Health Hub
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Running with Hay Fever

Hay fever is a seasonal condition which affects many runners ranging from an irritation to a major disruption in run training and races and enjoyment of running. Around 25% of the UK population is affected by hay fever and there are lots of online articles outlining advice for runners, so we thought we’d talk about current lifestyle advice and add our own advice on what you may do nutritionally to support yourself over the coming months. We will cover:

1.    What is hay fever - symptoms and underlying causes?

2.    What changes can you make to your running routine to minimise exposure to pollen?

3.    What can you do nutritionally to help prevent or minimise hay fever symptoms?



Our personal experiences of hay fever and how it affects our running plans.


What is allergic rhinitis? What are the different pollen types?

The medical name for hay fever is Allergic Rhinitis or you may have heard it called a Seasonal Allergy. Basically it’s:

·      An over-reaction of immune system to pollen

·      Leads to inflammation of nose, sinuses, eyes (itchy/watery), throat, tightening of the chest/wheeziness

·      25% of UK population affected by hay fever

There are different types of pollen which are seasonal:

·      Tree Pollen – spring – lots of different tree pollens

·      Grass Pollen – end spring and into summer

·      Weed Pollen – autumn

 So potentially the hay fever season lasts for a few months 


The medical risk factors for developing allergic rhinitis are:

·      Asthma

·      Eczema

·      Suppressed Immune System linked that Compromised Digestion too as, 70% of immune system lives in the gut

 We also should consider environmental factors – how much exposure do we have to pollen? As runners we are outdoors a lot so that probably puts us as a group into the high-risk category.


An overview of symptoms and how they affect a runner:

The most typical affect is that hay fever symptoms weaken nasal flow up to 80% i.e. impairs breathing and cardiovascular system  and the chest may tighten.

Repetitive sneezing affects concentration, performance, energy (mental/physical and may affect sleep).

One sneeze and close of eyes takes a 1 second – so a series of sneezes will impact on your running time, we heard an example of 60 sneezes impacting on a 10K time of 1 minute – that is a lot of sneezes!

Sneezing is probably the most common symptom, but other symptoms may include:

·      Itchy nose/palate/throat

·      Itchy and watery eyes – there is a risk that infection may follow if eyes are rubbed a lot

·      Blocked nose and nasal congestion

·      A Runny nose

·      Post-nasal drip – which is the sensation of mucus running down back of throat

·      Wheezing and tight chest 


What is happening physiologically to trigger the symptoms of hay fever and the role of histamine. 

As the name suggests Allergic Rhinitis or Seasonal Rhinitis – the immune system is reacting to the seasonal air borne pollen particles (allergens) we are exposed to. The pollen enters the body in low doses by a diffusion process across mucosal surfaces of body tissue and cells. The body recognises these allergens as “invaders” and respond by making specific antibodies to fight them.

The anti-bodies made are called IgE anti bodies. These IgE antibodies are produced by plasma cells in the lymph nodes or locally where the allergic reaction occurs – in this case it’s the eyes/nose/throat/chest. The IgE then binds to cell receptors on different immune cells (mast, basophil and activated eosinophil) which are activated to attack the pollen invaders.

Some of these cells release compounds known as pre-formed mediators which may either increase or down regulate inflammation (which will have been activated by the immune system to deal with the “invasion”).

One of these mediators is HISTAMINE which causes the symptoms associated with allergies. HISTAMINE has a crucial role in the body – as it is released it dilates blood vessels allowing WBC and blood plasma proteins to reach the site of inflammation and help fight the problem. However, in the situation of an allergy it is likely that the immune system releases an excess amount of HISTAMINE very quickly and this is why we experience a very fast onset of symptoms and they can feel quite uncomfortable.


Our thoughts on using anti-histamine over the counter medication and using nutrition and natural alternatives.


The role of histamine in the immune system, histamine load and histamine intolerance.


There are quite a lot of preventative measures which may be used to minimise exposure to pollen, especially if you know that you are at risk of experiencing hay fever like symptoms.

The obvious important step is to know the WEATHER and POLLEN forecast. Most weather channels report on pollen count nationally and regionally. Also, for the UK there is a great resource provided by University of Worcester – they provide pollen calendars for each region of UK. Local authorities also have pollen count info on their websites and some supplement companies give useful information  about what type of pollen is highest at a particular time.


1.    Check pollen forecasts – LOW-MED-HIGH-Very HIGH

2.    Dry and windy weather is worst – pollen is small and will become airborne

3.    Post Rain humidity can help dampen down airborne pollen

4.    Prolonged rain can rupture pollen particles which may make it easier to enter lungs


Making decisions about where and what time of day to run to help minimise your exposure to pollen.

Time of run training – avoid early am and late afternoon as this is when plants release pollen – so a lunchtime run would be best

Where to run

·      City – pollution may intensify air borne pollen and be exacerbated by dust

·      Keep away from roads and vegetation in parks, canals, river paths – although urban riversides often have wide paved pathways which may be ok

·      Avoid trail running on high pollen days – again you know your favourite trails and some may not pose a risk

·      Coastal and hilly areas are best choices for those high pollen days


What you may choose to do to physically protect yourself from pollen exposure. Think about eyes, noses, hands, what you may carry into your home on clothes and footwear.

·      Wrap-around SUNGLASSES are great at preventing pollen and dust getting into your eyes – wear them even when it’s not sunny they’ll protect you from airborne particles especially when the weather is windy

·      You may consider using a barrier like Haymax Allergen Barrier Balm When applied to the nostrils, it traps a proportion of the allergen which would otherwise travel up the nasal tract, where it then causes the reactions. The balm works under the principle that if enough is trapped, this will keep you below your sensitivity or trigger level so the reactions for that allergen will not be triggered.

·      We pick up pollen on our clothes, footwear, hair and pets – so change your clothes when you come indoors and perhaps think about rinsing the soles of running shoes

·      Another tip is to shower and wash hair after a run, so you don’t run the risk of transferring pollen particles to your eyes/nose once home

·      Face masks may protect us from airborne particles. However it’ll be really important to wash or dispose the mask of as soon as you get indoors.

·      Another tip is to keep windows closed – in the house and car. Especially consider the bedroom – during the day and at night-time too. That can be tricky especially if the room feels hot. You could maybe keep curtains or blinds closed during the day and have a fan or indoor air filter.


What to do nutritionally to prevent or minimise hay fever symptoms – starting with supporting a balanced immune system as a foundation throughout the whole year.


 A functional nutrition approach includes:

·      Promote mucous membrane barrier health as the first line of defense and minimise exposure to pollen and allergens

·      Support and balance the immune system – support gut immunity, reduce inflammation, manage histamine load

·      Then consider how to manage allergic symptoms and production and breakdown of excess mucous

 Hay fever sufferers may consider:

·      Cutting down on foods which encourage mucous production such as wheat and dairy,

·      Minimising high histamine foods e.g. aged cheeses, cured meats

·      increasing consumption of foods with anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties (berries, onions, garlic, green tea and nettle tea)

·      Follow an anti-inflammatory food plan – low in sugar and processed foods, focussing on

oily fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and spices such as turmeric and ginger, which can help to reduce inflammation.


Spotlighting Quercitin – a natural anti-histamine

·      An antioxidant and is in the bioflavanoid family and is found in many fruit and vegetables.

·      It possesses anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural anti-histamine. 

·      It’s probably the most talked about Bioflavonoid in respect of hayfever.

·      Has membrane stabilising properties on the cells that release histamine producing an anti-inflammatory effect.

·      Best food sources of quercetin are found in onions, apples, cranberries, blackcurrants, capers, buckwheat although also found in many other food sources including citrus fruits, parsley and sage 


Spotlighting Honey Bee Propolis 

There are a lot of anecdotal stories about having a spoonful of local honey daily, preferably starting well before the pollen season, helping to manage hay fever. The principle behind it is desensitisation – the pollen that bees collect works well as an effective anti-allergen. 

·      Propolis is a sticky resin gathered by honey bees from leaf buds, the bark of trees and other botanical sources.

·      Bees metabolise the Propolis and use it to seal, disinfect and protect their hives.

·      Propolis has natural antibiotic, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. 

·      Propolis is a complex food, and over 180 natural compounds have been identified including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids.

 Propolis is available as a supplement and there are a few recent studies looking at the health benefits that honeybee products such as honey, propolis, and royal jelly. It’s commonly accepted that honey has anti-microbial and wound healing properties and so has a positive contribution to the immune system.

Some research (mostly cell-based or animal based rather than human studies) appear to indicate that propolis inhibits mast cell functions and mast cell-dependent allergic responses however other papers say there is not enough evidence to support this. 


Key Takeaways 

1.    Allergic Rhinitis commonly known as hay fever affects at least 25% of the UK population.

2.    An immune reaction to Tree, Grass and Weed Pollen may lead to

inflammation of nose, sinuses, eyes (itchy/watery), throat and a tightening of the chest/wheeziness. 

3.    Hay fever symptoms affect many runners ranging from an irritation to a major disruption in run training and races and enjoyment of running.

4.    Pollen may trigger an IgE Mediated Immune Response and a release of Histamine which sometimes is in excess of requirements leading to hay fever symptoms.

5.    Some people have a high histamine load due to certain foods and medications consumed and a genetic inability to clear histamine due to compromised production of enzyme (DAO) diamine oxide and histamine-N-methyltransferase. This may exacerbate their immune response to pollen.

6.    To minimise exposure to pollen

·      Check Weather and Pollen Forecasts

·      Avoid running in windy dry weather

·      Choose to run routes away from vegetation

·      Protect eyes with wrap around sunglasses

·      Use Allergen Barrier Balm in nasal passage

·      Shower, wash hair and change clothes/shoes when coming from outdoor to indoors

·      Keep windows closed 

7.    Nutritionally Support your Immune System all year round – ensure optimal vitamin and mineral status, in particular focus on Vitamin D, Zinc, Vit C, Beta glucans

8.    Ahead of the hay fever season (and throughout the spring and summer) consider adding in protective nutrients to your food plan e.g. with anti-inflammatory foods (oily fish, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables and foods with anti-histamine properties (berries, onions, garlic, green tea and nettle tea).

9.    Minimise mucous producing foods such as wheat and dairy and high histamine foods such as aged cheeses and cured meats.

10. Using Quercitin in food or as a supplement may be a natural alternative to over the counter anti histamine medications.

11. Eating local Honey and Honey Bee Propolis, are anecdotally thought to protect against hay fever symptoms.

Related Topics:

Endurance Running and Immune System

Nutrition Basics for ALL Runners


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and

advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact

your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.

Together they host RUNNERS HEALTH HUB. A place for like-minded runners who are looking for simple ways to support running performance, energy, endurance, and general great health.

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