Know What’s Ailing You
Klemawesch advises to take note of when, and where, you have allergy flare-ups—such as a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, and so on. Pay attention to what trails, with what types of trees, weeds, and grasses, seem to give you symptoms, and what trails don’t. And know that, aside from trees, mold spores found mostly in shaded, wooded areas can also cause allergy symptoms.
To be sure, “You can get tested by an allergist, even if you don’t want treatment,” he says. “An allergist can tell you if you’re allergic to aspen or maple trees, for instance, and you can pick a trail that doesn’t have the allergen that you’re allergic to. You can make an informed decision.”
An allergist can also assess if you might be suffering from exercise-induced allergies instead of from mold or pollen.
Plan Your Rides Accordingly
If you find you’re suffering from any type of tree allergy, Klemawesch suggests riding at the end of the day, if you’re able. “Typically, there are higher pollen levels in the morning,” he says.
And he says it’s better to ride after a rain, or a snowfall, which can help temper the tree allergen. If it’s mold you’re allergic to, it’s best to bike at the end of the day, “after the sun has a chance to dry things out,” he says. And with a mold allergy, you wouldn’t want to ride after a rain. “The more dry, the better.”
Check Pollen and Mold Counts
Doing a web search for the pollen and mold counts in your area can help you decide if you need to plan your ride around the air, or even if it just might be a day for an indoor workout. Pollen.com, weather.com, and aaaai.org (the National Allergy Bureau’s site) will give you local counts when you type in your zip code.
Klemawesch says pretreating an allergy is helpful, and suggests taking an antihistamine before a ride—but not just any brand. “Benadryl and other first-generation antihistamines cause drowsiness and tend to dry people out,” he warns. “You don’t want to be dried out when you’re worrying about hydration. That can affect your thermal regulation.
The second generation of over-the-counter antihistamines, he says, like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec, are non-sedating and non-drying—a much better choice for cyclists.
Klemawesch also recommends everything from an over-the-counter nasal spray called Nasalcrom, to prescription topical nasal antihistamines like Astepro and Patanase, which you’d use right before a ride to ward off nasal and eye allergy symptoms. He also mentions Albuterol and Xopenex as preventive inhalers, and the newer nasal filters that work like a tiny filter inside your nose. “Both my son and I have tried them, and could breathe through them while working out.”
When you expose yourself to all things outdoors on a ride, the longer you go without a shower, the greater the likelihood your allergy symptoms will linger. And don’t skip washing your hair. “Have you ever rubbed a balloon on your hair? That static electricity is because of protein molecules in hair, and pollen will specifically stick to your hair and not other parts of your body,” says Klemawesh. “If you take a shower without washing your hair, you miss the main source of what can continue to expose you to what you were out in when you were on the trail.”
Washing your clothes between rides is also important. “When your clothing is moist from sweat,” says Klemawesch, “it picks up that much more pollen.”
All of that said, Klemawesch maintains: “The best therapy is getting out on that trail. The better trained you are, the better you can cope with health and injuries, including allergies. Exercise is the best medicine.”