Exercise can lead to experiencing rhinitis symptoms. Rhinitis refers to the swelling of the mucous membrane that lines the nose. This inflammation creates various symptoms including: sneezing, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, congestion etc. There are different causes of rhinitis which is most commonly associated with seasonal allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million people experience various types of allergies every year. Exercising can activate rhinitis symptoms which can be experienced mildly to severely. Being aware and practicing effective ways to manage allergies can significantly minimize the impact of rhinitis on daily life.  

Understanding Rhinitis

The causes of rhinitis can be categorized as allergic or non-allergic. Allergic rhinitis is the more common form:  

  • Allergic Rhinitis: also referred to as hay fever, this type of rhinitis is caused by environmental factors and the body’s immune system. The process of the immune system reacting to a specific trigger, or allergen, produces rhinitis symptoms. When a person comes into contact with the allergen that they are allergic to, the body identifies that substance as harmful. People can come into contact with an allergen in several ways including: ingesting, inhaling, touching, or injecting into the body. To alleviate the potential threat the allergen could have on health (by causing sickness), the immune system releases antibodies. Whenever a person experiences this allergen, these antibodies release chemicals – including histamine – into the bloodstream. This reaction then produces allergy symptoms. The most common allergen is pollen; other sources of allergic rhinitis include pet dander, mold, and fungi. 
  • Non-Allergic Rhinitis: non-allergic rhinitis tends to be more difficult to diagnose and accounts for nearly one fourth of all cases of rhinitis. This form of rhinitis is not produced by the immune system. Rather, the blood vessels in the nose are impacted which leads to congestion. Non-allergic triggers include: chemicals with strong odors (detergents, perfumes), environmental pollution, weather changes, tobacco etc. Non-allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by viral infections. 

Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis share similar symptoms: runny nose, congestion, sneezing, post-nasal drip etc. Exercise can also activate these symptoms in a few ways. 

Exercise & Rhinitis

Exercise can activate both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis. Various studies have shown that rhinitis tends to be more prevalent among athletes compared to non-athletes. With allergic rhinitis, exercise is a major way that people can be exposed to allergens. Exercise requires more air as people breathe rapidly which increases exposure to allergens. There are various ways that exercise can increase exposure to allergens: 

  • while running outside, people can inhale pollen consistently and/or be exposed to pollution
  • swimming exposes people to chlorine and other chemicals that can trigger rhinitis
  • winter sports: exposure to cold and dry air can activate rhinitis

This highlights that exercise and rhinitis can be linked, causing people to experience unpleasant allergy symptoms. Fortunately, there are useful ways this can be managed!

Treating & Managing Rhinitis

There are different ways you can effectively treat and manage your rhinitis: 

  • Modify Behavior: if you are aware of the specific allergens that trigger you, it is important to reduce your exposure. This could mean avoiding exercising outdoors, swimming in lakes/oceans rather than pools etc.  
  • Medications: there is a wide range of over the counter medications that people use to alleviate symptoms. This includes: 
  • Antihistamines: taken orally to alleviate allergy symptoms. Common antihistamines include:  Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, etc.
  • Decongestants: work to alleviate nasal congestion and can be taken orally or via nasal spray. 

People often combine antihistamines and decongestants to provide comprehensive relief. It can take some time to figure out which medications work best for you. 

  • Natural Remedies: there are also numerous home remedies that people often use including: 
  • Rinsing nasal passages using a neti pot or similar device. 
  • Using a dehumidifier to help keep the air purified 
  • Drinking tea or herbal mixtures to alleviate symptoms 

Navigating rhinitis can be challenging. If you exercise regularly, reducing your exposure is a particularly useful way to alleviate rhinitis. But if this is not always possible, take the time to explore and discover which combination of medications and home remedies effectively treat your symptoms!