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Hayfever, diet and exercise

Hayfever diet and exercise
Do you suffer from hayfever? do you workout? In this ‘hayfever, diet and exercise’ article, I’ll be talking about what hayfever is, its symptoms, treatments and help with improving your diet and exercise plan to cope with this annoying allergy.

I myself am a hayfever sufferer. I remember the day it’s ugly head first appeared. I was working in an office in the early 2000’s (can’t remember the year, but remember the occurring day in detail). I’d worked in this office building situated in the country side for over 15 years. I had been sitting at my computer and suddenly felt by eyes puff up. I felt my eyes and they were puffy and sore. Upon looking in a mirror, I could see my eyes were red and there were huge bags under my eyes. There was no warning, no gradual suffering, I had become a sudden and unexpected hayfever sufferer. Nowadays I have it very well under control and in fact as I type this, this year is the worst in many years for hayfever sufferers, however I haven’t had a single symptom rear its head.

What causes hayfever?

Hayfever, also known as allergic rhinitis is caused by your body’s reaction to pollen. Pollen from plants, trees, grass, weed and even types of dust and mould/fungi spoors makes its way into the body through your nose, mouth and eyes causing your body to create histamine. Unfortunately your immune system mistakenly see’s this pollen/dust as harmful foreign bacteria, overreacts and produces anti bodies to try to rid the body of it and over produces histamine.

Pollen from trees usually affects people in late march to mid May, while grass pollen affects people from mid May to July and weed from the end of June to September. However some people can suffer year round with several allergies affecting them.

Warmer and windy weather can also make the situation worse, allowing pollen to be picked up and travel and fly around and dispersing itself, landing in more places.

As a side note, some foods can make the matter worse also. For me I occasionally get an itching mouth from eating some nuts, raw fruit such as apples and peaches (see about diet below).

What are the symptoms of hayfever?

When your body produces histamine it causes an inflammatory response and most people with hayfever will suffer from the following:

  • Congestion / blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge / runny nose
  • Loss of smell
  • Mucus formation
  • Coughing
  • Tight chest
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Itchy roof of mouth
  • Itchy throat
  • Sore / itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Puffy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Earache
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Hayfever symptoms can also be worse for those that suffer from other allergies or breathing issues, such as asthma. Also night-time can be worse for many due to pollen hanging in the air during the day and falling in the evening.

What hayfever treatments are there?

It’s important to note that at this time there is no medical cure for hayfever. The only thing available is the management of the allergy. Essentially you need to reduce the source of your allergy and the amount of histamine being produced by the body. In order to do this you need to:

Tackle symptoms and reduce histamine production:

  • Improve your diet (see diet below).
  • Improve your general health (see exercise below).
  • Hayfever tablets – Some tablets will make you drowsy, therefore you may be best taking them at night. I don’t seem to get drowsy and take them in the morning as soon as I get up.
  • Hayfever nasal sprays – These can help reduce inflammation and sneezing. I only use these if I go out or have lots of windows open on hot days.
  • Eye drops – Helps to reduce swelling and itchiness. Use as required. If you don’t like using eye drops try just rinsing your eyes with water, which will also help to remove pollen/dust, but be aware it won’t do much for any immediate eye symptoms.
  • Nasal decongestants – Gives relief for a blocked or congested nose.
  • Bee wax / vaseline / petroleum jelly – Used around your nostrils can ‘possibly’ help trap some pollen and dust before they enter your nose.

Reduce the source of your allergy:

  • Hoover regularly, especially carpets.
  • Use a damp cloth to clean up dust/pollen in the house, rather than wipe over with a duster that just moves it about.
  • Clean / change your bedding regularly.
  • Stay in and close windows and doors as much as possible on bad days.
  • Dry clothes in the house to reduce pollen collecting on them outside.
  • Wash/shower often.
  • Wear sun glasses when out (wrap around glasses are good).
  • Wear a hat outside to reduce pollen/dust clinging to your hair.
  • Change your clothes often.
  • Get someone else to cut the grass.
  • Avoid smoke, as this can make allergy symptoms worse.
  • Keep your pets clean as much as possible, as their fur can hold pollen.
  • Use a pollen filter in the home.
  • Clean or renew your car’s pollen filter.

Prevention is much better than relief. Timing medication and ensuring you eliminate/reduce exposure and the chances of your allergy is better than suffering then trying to get comfort for it.

For the severe sufferers, I’d recommend you visit your doctor. They can do tests which normally consists of doing a skin prick test or take blood samples to tell you the cause and best course of action. You may be prescribed corticosteroids, which suppresses inflammation and/or immunotherapy which reduces allergies by resetting its over reactive response to your allergy.

Some people will get benefits from acupuncture which may help to reduce the symptoms of hayfever.

Untreated hayfever can possibly lead to other ill health conditions due to the symptoms causing various difficulties and inflammation though the allergy, such as reduced lung function, which can lead to asthma for example. If you are wheezing, coughing, having to breathe through your mouth during exercise it can cause exercise induced asthma (which I use to suffer from, before getting much fitter and stronger and getting my hayfever under control). It used to leave me breathless very fast, wheezing and coughing after my workouts. Other issues can occur, such as sinusitis (an infection of the sinuses) and ear infections.

Hayfever and diet

Your diet can help greatly with fighting histamine production by realising that some foods are histamine producing and some are anti-histamine foods.

I have decided not to do a specific list of foods that are anti-histamine and histamine producers, why? the internet is full of misinformation. If you trawl through the websites that list such foods, you will see that there’s a lot of controversy and even some foods that are listed as anti-histamine, while others list that same food as histamine producing. Therefore it is important to research eat food if in doubt. What I will do however is mentioned a few things to help point you in the right direction.

Let’s start by saying there are quite a number of foods that will either produce histamine or help it’s release into the body. Unfortunately there are a few good foods in this list that I would not remove from my diet for their nutritional value, however you need to find what works best for you and your particular allergy. What you do want to avoid however are smoked meat/fish, processed meat or any processed food, over ripe vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, fermented foods and alcohol.

Anti-histamine foods contain a flavanol called quercetin, which is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and helps give allergy and asthma relief amongst other possible benefits. Food types that have quercetin are green vegetables, peppers, red onions, dark berries/cherries/grapes and some fruits. Pineapple contains bromelain and can help absorb quercetin.

Relief from symptoms can also come from foods that are anti-inflammatory, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, ginger, green tea, berries, tomatoes and other foods containing bioflavonoids and anti oxidants. Foods with omega 3 greatly help to reduce inflammation also. Some spicy foods can help relieve a stuffy nose and widen your airways and some can even be anti inflammatory. Herbal teas, such as chamomile and nettle can have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties also. Also taking extra vitamin C and D can be beneficial for the immune system.

Controversy : There’s appears to be an overlap to some foods, such as the avocado and pineapple for example, which are both great fruits with lots of health benefits and are also anti-inflammatory, but are also said to be histamine producers……….such is life, it’s never black and white. over apples and nuts etc – depends on your allergy type

At this point I’d also like to say you need to identify the food groups that are irritating your immune system. It’s important to note that it depends what pollen you suffer from and what allergy you have, for example eating apples is said to be good for itchy eyes and sneezing. However my tree hayfever/allergy will have me itching at the roof of my mouth and throat if I eat a raw apple, so be aware. Hayfever sufferers may also have problems with nuts, vegetable and some fruits and other raw foods and as such I have written a post on oral allergy syndrome here, which is a closely related allergy.

It’s important for me to point out here, that if you are suffering an allergy, you are best seeking professional advice, some forms of allergy can be very bad for your health and can be made considerably worse through bad dieting habits or eating the wrong foods.

Hayfever and exercise

Hayfever can affect us physically with fatigue and breathing difficulties. You can suffer from congestion, colds, runny nose, coughing, headaches, sore eyes, lack of concentration, mood swings, shortness of breath, lack of sleep, nervous system overload, inflammation, drowsiness from medication,  cortisol producing stress, adrenal fatigue, and much more. All of which can take its toll on us and leave us unable to workout.

Now I hope that the list above hasn’t put you off trying to get your workout in, because as a suffer myself I can tell you that following some of the advice I has given and about to give you has meant that my hayfever has had very little effect on my workouts and it shouldn’t be any different for the majority of you either.

So what can you do with regards preparing yourself for your workout? firstly do as mentioned above, plus ensure your diet is good, don’t under estimate how important this is, not only eating for health and progress in exercise, but reducing histamine and its symptoms.

Plus do the following:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Use medication to reduce histamine.
  • Rest/relax between your workouts to reduce stress to minimise adrenal gland fatigue and lower cortisol levels.
  • Workout indoors and at home, avoid air conditioned gyms that may spread other moist damp or air born infection, making your over worked immune system work harder.
  • Wash and shower before a workout and straight after to get rid of any pollen that may have collected on you.
  • Check out the weather and pollen forecast for the best time to workout. Normally you are best exercising in the late morning or early afternoon (pollen count is usually lower at these times).
  • Reduce your workout intensity and take an easy, walk instead of running and if you lift weights do more static contractions type resistance instead to reduce heavy breathing to minimise breathing in more pollen and stressing your respiratory system.
  • If you need to go outside and run, then find a route away from grass and parks and use nostril wax, a nasal spray and eye drops. Wear glasses and possibly try an allergy/pollen mask.

Note: For some people exercise can make an allergy worse or come on. It is possible to get exercise induced rhinitis, asthma and other allergies. It is always best to seek medical advice if this happens to identify the type and cause.


Since sorting my on/off diet/nutrition and exercise routine over the past year or so, I have had very little to no hayfever symptoms. Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can reduce the effects of hayfever. I have always found that the days that are worst were the days I was less active, so get up and move around, exercise can help flush toxins out of the body. Exercise can increase your good mood and therefore reduce stress.

Use medication and your diet to help reduce histamine production and reduce the symptoms that occur. Exercise to improve your health and reduce the need to rely on medication and your diet.