If you exercise outdoors, you have likely noticed that it is easy and common to experience a runny nose. This occurs when the walls in the nose are inflamed and this swelling of the mucus membrane causes symptoms that include: runny nose, congestion, and watery eyes. But how does this happen just from running?

Well, this is known as rhinitis which is most commonly triggered by seasonal allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 50 million people experience different types of allergies every year. Being outdoors exposes people to triggers that activate rhinitis. So exercising outside, especially during Spring and Summer months, can easily lead to a runny nose. There are effective ways you can manage your seasonal allergies and the symptoms you experience so that you can more comfortably run outdoors.  

Rhinitis: Causes & Symptoms

To understand how exercising outdoors can activate rhinitis, it is helpful to understand what rhinitis is. There are two types: allergic or non-allergic rhinitis which are caused by different factors. 

  • Allergic Rhinitis: also referred to as hay fever, this is the most common type of rhinitis. This type of allergic response is produced by the body’s immune system. When it encounters a substance (through inhaling, ingesting, touching etc.), referred to as an allergen, it misidentifies it as potentially harmful. This activates a response system that involves releasing antibodies to tackle the allergen and chemicals into the bloodstream including histamine. This overreaction causes the symptoms that are associated with allergies: itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, congestion etc. The most common allergen is pollen which is a powdery substance made from plants. Pollen is highest during Spring and Summer months as plants and flowers are blooming and dryer weather allows pollen to stay in the environment longer. Other common allergens include pet dander, mold, and fungi. 
  • Non-Allergic Rhinitis: non-allergic rhinitis is not as easily identifiable and is less common than allergic rhinitis. Making up nearly one-fourth of all rhinitis that people experience, this type is not produced by the body’s immune system but is caused by impacted blood vessels. This can be caused by chemicals with strong odors (detergents, perfumes), air pollution, changes in weather, tobacco etc. Viral infections can also contribute to non-allergic rhinitis. 

Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis have similar symptoms: runny nose, congestion, post-nasal drip etc. Exercise can trigger both types of rhinitis in different ways.  

Exercise & Rhinitis

Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis can be experienced while exercising outdoors which leads to a runny nose. There are studies that reveal a link between exercise and rhinitis which is underscored by data that shows that rhinitis is more commonly experienced among athletes compared to non-athletes. This highlights that exercise is a major way that people can come into contact with allergens, producing reactions that can be unpleasant. There are several ways that exercise does this including the following: 

  • Running outdoors or participating in other exercise activities outside is a common way people breathe in pollen, activating allergic rhinitis. People can also be exposed to environmental pollution which triggers non-allergic rhinitis. 
  • swimming and exercising in pools can exposes people to chlorine and other chemicals that can activate non-allergic rhinitis
  • playing any winter sports and/or exercising outdoors during the winter increases exposure to cold and dry air which can also activate rhinitis

Though exercising outdoors can increase exposure to allergies, there are helpful tips you can practice to manage symptoms.

Treatment & Tips

There are several strategies that you can implement to treat your runny nose and other rhinitis symptoms. This includes using over the counter medications, natural remedies, and applying behavioral changes. 

  • Adjusting Behavior: identifying what you are allergic to is incredibly important because it allows you to eliminate or reduce your exposure to it. Reducing exposure could involve avoiding exercising outdoors, not swimming in chlorinated pools, running outdoors when pollen count is low etc.   
  • Medications: there is a variety of over the counter medications that are commonly used to alleviate allergy symptoms: 
  • Antihistamines: taken orally to alleviate common allergy symptoms – Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, etc.
  • Decongestants: specifically treats nasal congestion and can be taken orally or via nasal spray. 
  • Natural Remedies: this can include at home practices like: rinsing nasal passages, using a dehumidifier, herbal mixtures, replacing air filters consistently etc.