Hay fever when cycling is not to be sneezed at

August 21, 2018 3 min read

Hay fever when cycling is not to be sneezed at

As we head towards spring in Australia we look at fighting one of cycling’s biggest gremlins.

Hay fever.

All it takes is a light to moderate breeze for flower pollen, weed pollen and grass pollen to spread in overwhelming amounts causing sneezing, a runny nose, coughing, burning eyes, stuffy sinuses, headaches (caused by stuffy sinuses) light sensitivity, itchy, watery eyes and possibly even feeling foggy headed and tired.

On top of all that it also closes up your nasal passages which are your number one source for getting oxygen to your body effectively during exercise, so not only do you feel lousy, you aren’t getting the best out of your ride and the more you fight to get more air in, the more pollen you introduce to your system.

While some days are better than others it helps to know the best plans of attack so you can be fighting fit no matter the pollen count.


If you use antihistamines often you may find the effects wear off over time. Depending on the ingredients in the drug you take you might have built up an immunity, however, it is just as likely that the drug isn’t able to fight the whole pollen spectrum so on different days or different times of the year you are exposed to new pollens your body is reacting to, especially if you are travelling. 

That’s why you might find that some antihistamine brands work for you and others do nothing. 

Some experts say that the most effective way to take hay fever medication is to use it everyday and start well before the pollen season to allow your body time to stop producing histamine. 

So if you are only taking hay fever medication on bad pollen days, or waiting until you start to experience symptoms before you down a tablet, you’re not going to see many positive effects. 

It’s too late to take any medications or preventions after the symptoms start, by this point your body is already in reactive mode. Whatever medication you choose you need to plan well in advance, not have it in your back pocket on the road. 

Not everyone likes the side effects that come with antihistamines so you might not be too keen on the idea of medication, especially if you find you are feeling drowsy or scrambled. 

Nasal relief 

Unlike hormone medication, nasal decongestants don’t come with a swag of side effects. Look for barrier balms that trap a lot of pollen before it hits your senses. 

You apply this before your ride, or, another option is taking a nasal spray before bed. Flonase, Rhinocort or Nasacort are proven to be non-addictive and don’t wear off with extended use. Using the spray before bed gives your body time to absorb and work with the active ingredients ready for your morning ride, rather than getting started while you are exposed to pollen on the road. This way you wake up fresh and symptom free. 

Stay indoors 

Another option, while not ideal is to stay off the road on bad pollen days. It can pay to monitor your symptoms and see when they are getting worse and lay low. Use an indoor trainer until the worst of it passes. This is also a good idea for windy spring days. And for me, this one is not just about comfort, it’s about safety. It takes all your wits to ride on the road at the best of times, if you are not clear headed, mistakes can happen and not just you as a rider, drivers get hay fever as well and if their vision and thinking is poor at the same time as your reaction times are slower… well, I’d rather you take a day or two off the road to stay out there for seasons to come. 

Can diet help?

There are some studies that suggest certain blood types are more susceptible to pollen allergies than others and the cure might just be in how you eat. There are indications that eating a well-balanced diet, salmon and other omega 3 fatty acid foods as well as turkey or beef and avoiding dairy products is another factor that might prove to alleviate your allergy symptoms. Avoid ice cream and switch to 2% fat milk and see if you notice a difference.


  • Take any medication early
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Ride when pollen is low
  • Avoid windy days
  • Eat omega-3 fats

Riding in the sun and breathing in that fresh air without a worry? That’s freedom! 

*Please note – before taking any medications, you should check that the ingredients are suitable for you, and if you have a racing licence, ensure they are on all approved lists.

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