It’s springtime. The flowers are out and it’s getting warmer – the perfect setting for a run, game or training, right? Unfortunately, not for some!

Springtime can mean a runny nose, blocked sinuses and itchy eyes for many, which can truly put a dampener on training and performance. At this time of year, anyone who suffers from hayfever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) and takes on an active sport, such as tennis, soccer, netball, cycling and athletics, can take a real hit that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Hayfever season in Sydney peaks in October and November, with about 13,300 people out of every 100,000 affected. However, because different pollens are released at various times of the year, those who suffer multiple allergies could see their symptoms last through to March. You can expect tree pollens releasing at the end of July to early August, then grass pollens from mid-September, followed by weed pollens. Feel like sneezing now?

The best way to prevent hayfever is to stay well away from the triggers. But let’s face it, unless you’re training or playing your sport in a bubble, you’re not going to be able to make that much of a difference.

Just how does hayfever affect performance?

In a 2010 report by Professor Jean Emberlin, she stated the symptoms of hayfever can impact directly on performance in nearly all sporting activities, and the exercise required in most sports can make hayfever symptoms worse. Hayfever can affect:

  • Vision. If eyes are itchy and watery, your sense of coordination and distance (think golf, football, archery) and speed (such as when receiving the ball in cricket) can be impacted. Watery eyes are also more sensitive to light, plus when you sneeze, your eyes close for about a second which is pretty detrimental to times and reactions in most sports.
  • Breathing. Hayfever in the form of a runny or blocked nose can weaken nasal flow by up to 80 per cent (Emberlin and Lewis 2006), resulting in impaired breathing and cardiovascular performance. Syncronising breathing with body movements (as you do in sports such as swimming, running and rowing) also becomes challenged.
  • Concentration. A reduction in concentration during the hayfever season could be due to the fact that symptoms can interfere with sleep. There’s also the time you take to anticipate a sneeze, and wiping your nose and eyes, which easily moves your thoughts away from the sporting task at hand.
  • Coordination. This is disrupted when sneezing and congestion are present.

The treatments…

A hayfever trigger will vary from one person to the next, so it’s wise to figure out what you’re up against before hitting the shelves at your local chemist. Unfortunately, all hayfever treatments have side effects. Your doctor can help you work out what’s causing your symptoms and prescribe the best medications for those particular symptoms.

Antihistamines are a common treatment for hayfever, but don’t treat congestion. Also, the side effects include drowsiness, impaired thinking, dry mouth and constipation – not great for an athlete! Those who play competition sport may particularly want to avoid antihistamines combined with pseudoephedrine – a decongestant found in some cold, flu and sinus relief medication. On top of the antihistamine side effects, you could experience insomnia, nervousness, excitability, dizziness, fear or anxiety, rapid heartbeat, tremor and hallucinations. Definitely not a breaking records kinda cocktail!

Steroids aren’t much fun either. Used long-term, these can cause you to gain weight, promote acne and stomach ulcers, and even make some people vulnerable to infections.

Corticosteroid nasal sprays seem to be the most effective preventative hayfever treatment but, sorry, they have their issues, too. Although they do relieve existing symptoms – even congestion – and can prevent them from occurring, they need to be used regularly and might not suit those with a nasal passage injury or who suffer nose bleeds. They can also cause headaches and damage to the nasal passages.

In a nutshell, it’s best to consult your doctor so that they can prescribe a treatment that will not only help you but have the least impact on your performance and will not adversely mix with any other medication you may be taking.

So tell us, do you suffer from hayfever? What are your tricks for fighting your symptoms and preventing poor performance? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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