Experiencing a runny nose while exercising is more common than you think. Typically, in this context, what causes a nose to run is the inflammation of the walls that line the nose. This swelling for the mucus membrane can produce a range of effects including a runny nose, watery eyes, congestion etc. This is referred to as rhinitis which is most commonly caused by seasonal allergies. 

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million people experience various types of allergies every year. Exercising, especially outdoors, can trigger rhinitis and its associated symptoms. This can occur with greater frequency during Spring and Summer months when seasonal allergies are at an all-time high. There are useful ways you can manage a runny nose and other symptoms you may experience which can lead to a much more pleasant time exercising! 

Rhinitis: Causes & Symptoms

There are two types of rhinitis: allergic or non-allergic which have different causes.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis,  also known as hay fever, is the more common type of rhinitis. It is caused by how the body’s immune system responds to certain environmental factors. When the immune system comes into contact with a specific substance (or allergen) that it recognizes as harmful, it activates a response that produces an allergic reaction. There are different ways people can encounter an allergen: breathing it in, ingesting, touching etc. To destabilize the allergen and the harm it can cause, the immune system releases antibodies that neutralize it. These antibodies are then activated every time the immune system experiences the allergen and this releases chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. This process causes the allergic reaction and the symptoms associated with it. The most common substance that people are allergic to is pollen which is a powder like substance that is made from plants to fertilize other plants. Other common allergens include pet dander, mold, and fungi.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis is not as easy to identify and diagnose. Not as common, it accounts for nearly one fourth of all cases of rhinitis. It does not involve the body’s immune system but is caused by the blood vessels being affected by various factors that produce congestion. These triggers of non-allergic rhinitis include chemicals with strong odors (detergents, perfumes), air pollution, changes in weather, tobacco etc. Non-allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by viral infections.

Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis do share similar symptoms: runny nose, congestion, post-nasal drip etc. Exercise can trigger both kinds of rhinitis in a variety of ways.

Exercise & Rhinitis

Exercise can activate both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis, causing one’s nose to run. Studies have shown that there are links between exercise and rhinitis, specifically highlighting that rhinitis tends to be more prevalent among athletes compared to non-athletes. Exercise is a common and significant way that people experience greater exposure to allergens. This exposure can manifest in numerous ways including:

          while running or engaging in other forms of exercise outdoors, people can breathe in pollen (allergic rhinitis) consistently and/or be exposed to environmental pollution (non-allergic rhinitis)

          swimming exposes people to chlorine and other chemicals that can activate non-allergic rhinitis

          participating in winter sports increases exposure to cold and dry air which can activate rhinitis

Exercise can increase exposure but there are useful ways to manage symptoms that minimize the impact!

Treatment & Tips

There are various strategies you can use to treat your runny nose and other symptoms you may experience. This includes a combination of non-prescription medications, homeopathic remedies, and behavioral changes.

  1.     Modify Behavior: identifying the allergens that impact you is incredibly useful because it allows you to reduce your exposure to the substance(s). Reducing exposure could mean avoiding exercising outdoors, not swimming in chlorinated pools etc.  
  2.     Medications: there are numerous types of over the counter medications that people use to alleviate rhinitis symptoms:

          Antihistamines: taken orally to provide relief from allergy symptoms. Common types include Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, etc.

          Decongestants: work to alleviate nasal congestion and can be taken orally or via nasal spray.

  1.     Natural Remedies: there are also numerous home remedies that people often use like rinsing nasal passages, using a dehumidifier etc. 

If you have experienced difficulty breathing through your nose or have an excessively runny nose when exercising, contact us! Enticare provides ENT and allergy services and we’re here to help. 

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