Cycling with Allergies

It’s that time of year again, when the pollen counts are high and I’m feeling it along with my fellow allergy sufferers. A struggle I’ve had for years, is how to perform with allergies on the bike. Now I just don’t. When I feel it the most, I just ride tempo, base, and relax. For those of us that race, there’s no gain if you can’t go hard.

When the trees are done doing their thing and the air clears, I’m back kitted up with numbers and turning the pedals fast. For commuters, tourists, and the plain-clothes cylists, various treatments can help keep you on the bike and riding.

Pollen Map of Doom


Various Treatments

  • Flush with saline – Mix baking soda 2 to 1 with salt and flush that through your nose and throat. Use one of those baby de-snotter things, if you’re really congested, or a netti pot.

  • Shower frequently – besides the normal bath, I’ll rinse off before and after a ride to wash the pollen off my body

  • Drugs – Those that don’t have allergies think you can just take a pill and be all better, up there pushing the pace. Well, no you can’t. Drugs have side-effects and just dampen the worst symptoms. For me it’s asthma. I take a combination of Nasonex, Astelin, Foradil, and Albuterol.

  • Sleep – I nap, sleep, and rest more at the height of allergy season. I want to give me immunity system all the advantages.

  • Vitamins – A multi daily and vitamin C, along with D for the Seattle area, where we’re sun deprived.

  • Herbs – I’d like to think they help, maybe a placebo effect. Don’t know, but there’s nothing really I found that makes a difference.

  • Acupuncture – when it’s as bad as it gets, I visit my acupuncturist. What I’ve found is that my body is so heightened to contaminants in the air, that anything will set it off. Like, a passing whiff of perfume, cigarette smoke, diesel and so on. The acupuncturist just calms me down and those moments on the table I can try to breath deep and chill.

  • Breathing – over the years, I’ve adapted to breathing excercises and breathing deep on the bike. In the pack, cyclists next to me probably think I’m sighing or doing some weird thing. But it’s just trying to calm down and breathe as deep as I can.

Reader Replies

I tweeted about allergies and readers replied

  • jonesdavide – I ride in Memphis which is notorious 4 causing bad allergies. I use my glove (Castelli) thumb snot cloth & blow alot of rockets
  • woodswittdealy – saline nasal irrigation before & after ride. Singulair. Zaditor for eyes. Astelin spray. Benedryl for emergency.
  • thorn_tree – medicate up and wear wrap around glasses. currently using zyrtec D but I switch every couple of years.
  • jennfields – chin to shoulder, blow! & don’t worry, snot washes off cycling jerseys quite easily. :)
  • JeffCole53 – I find farmer blows help - along with Claritin D.
  • spurdave – A netti pot and salt water helps clear out the snoot before and after rides. I bring an emergency inhaler and use non-drowsy drugs. And a whole lotta water.
  • mattmbr – disposable contact lenses and Oakley m frames or radars.


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+1 on the baby snot bulb. I’m also sniff Nasonex on a daily basis.

You get asthma with antihistamines? Wow, that reeks.

I carry a rescue inhaler but I haven’t had a truly serious asthma attack since the 80s, when I nearly died. These days I wheeze like an old steam engine—I’ve even had guys on group rides wonder if I’m okay I wheeze so badly.

That’s right—I wheeze right along. OId nickname was wheezy. For me, what happens is at full-on effort; exercise-induced asthma kicks in. Science hasn’t caught up to the need to go *really hard* with allergies. I can minimize most of it. That’s what the Foradil does for me; it’s lessens the mucous. I know several studies are on with exercise-induced; for some athletes it’s smog or temperature and me it’s allergens. After batteries of testing, including two trips to the UW fitness labs, we concluded: during Allergy season, if you’re feeling wheezy and allergenic, better to not race and just go train. I’ve done much to also build up a massive base to have my legs carry me through. But if it triggers, I’m out. It takes me at least 5 minutes to recover and despite me asking, my fellow racers just don’t want to slow down for that long for me to get my breath back.

I feel for you, as I’ve got the same issues.  A couple of years ago my Asthma Dr. started me on Fluticasone 50 mcg to combat the allergy thing.  Fantastic stuff—I know the pollen is out there by the color of my tires, but I just don’t suffer the consequences.

Have you tried allergy shots?  They dose you with the stuff you’re allergic to, until your body gets used to it and doesn’t notice the stuff in the environment.  It’s also not a drug, not a steroid, etc.

I had massive problems with allergies and a chronic sinus infection until I got back on shots (I was on them as a kid).  All the difference in the world - way more than any drugs I’ve used.  I’m still on Allegra D, and the Fluticasone and Astelin are great when things get rough.  But none of that stuff did enough until the shots.

I take Allegra on a daily basis and don’t have much of a problem with a runny or stuffy nose.  I also don’t experience any wheezing or asthma type effects.  I raced in USCF events twenty-two years ago.  I chose all my races outside of the allergy season.  I no longer race but like to go out on hard training rides.  Through the years I’ve learned that I’ll have rides in both the Spring and late Summer (starting August 15th almost like clockwork) where I essentially have no strength in my legs.  If I’m on a time-trial type ride, I can usually tell right away when I have no strength in my legs.  Although I don’t feel a shortness of breath, I feel as if my allergies are preventing my body from getting oxygen to my legs.  If I’m on a road ride a couple of hours long, I may start with some energy but may come crawling in the last forty-five minutes with zero energy in my legs.  I was hoping to find someone with the same experience who found that there was a ‘magic’ allergy pill or shot that would prevent this from happening.  But from what I’ve read so far, it appears that no such magic exists.  I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who might have the solution for avoiding ‘weak legs’ during the allergy season.

I don’t have weak legs but do have achy painy legs that don’t go as fast as they normally do. I avoid races during the season and just ride base. After years of fighting it, I just adapted and also know of no magic cure. Astelin helps me and so does foradil.

Thanks for the quick reply DL Byron!  While I did say I have weak legs during the allergy season, I could just as well have said achy painy legs just as you said.  Once a week I go on a one hour time trial.  This is when I can really feel those achy painy burny legs.  When I’m out on a rode ride, I usually ride more within myself so that I just plainly run out of energy in my legs after awhile.  By the way, I did mention that breathing is not an issue for me.  But that’s probably because I usually ride alone now.  If I was on a group ride, I’d probably be gasping for air.  I was reminded of this on my ride last Sunday.  A strong young biker came up on me during my ride.  I latched on to his wheel as he past me.  After a short while I was pretty much gasping for air.  After a few miles, we went in opposite directions.  I finished the last forty five minutes of my ride basically dead.  Just one week before that, I was thinking to myself how strong I felt on my ride.  It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a good rain so I think the pollen count has been building up since then.

I just discovered Bike Hugger and it’s great! I came across it searching for: “Cycling with Allergies”. I live in Atlanta and gave up cycling May ‘10 due to constant burning and clouding of my eyes. It got to be so bad I had trouble seeing the road clearly. Nothing medically prescribed worked. I have been taking two teaspoon of local honey and I have been back on my road bike with no problem, riding locally. Yesterday I road to another county and the burning and coating of my eyes returned. My ride is getting stronger, but I am concerned about going any distance. Has any one experienced these symptoms?

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