Cycling and hayfever

Hayfever can be a minor irritation for many cyclists during the peak pollen months of summer, but it can also become debilitating in severe cases. I have experienced mild hayfever for several years. Usually I suffer at the end of the ride when my nose starts streaming for 30-60 mins. But during the past week, with high pollen counts, I’ve experienced more severe symptoms even when cycling. In terms of treatment for hayfever, I have relied on cetirizine hydrochloride (Piriteze) I usually take when it is bad. But, last weekend, it didn’t make much difference, so I looked into more possible solutions. (Vaseline around nose and Fluticasone propionate nasal spray)

Rise of hayfever

Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a rise in cases of hayfever with one study by charity Allergy UK warning over 30 million adults could suffer hayfever by 2030. Interestingly the first known recorded case of hayfever was not recorded until the nineteenth century by John Bostock who in March 1819 presented an interesting case to the Medical and Chirurgical Society: ‘Case of a periodical affection of the eyes and chest.’ It seems to be a modern phenomena and something about modern life is making it worse.

Suggested reasons for the rise in hayfever include:

  • Rise in air pollution which combined with pollen acts as a greater irritant.
  • Children spending less time outdoors and so not developing the same level of natural immunity to pollen.
  • Climate change – warmer summers create more smogs and lead to higher pollen counts
  • Change in diet – non-organic GMO food, industrial farming causing internal allergies to things like pollen.

Tips for dealing with hayfever when cycling

  • Vaseline /beeswax around nose and eyes. When I really suffered last week I felt pollen had gotten into the nose and really caused an irritation. I saw a suggestion to put vaseline around nose and eyes, as the sticky substance catches some of pollen before entering eyes and nose. It seemed quite effective so I bought Hay Max – a small tub of bees wax and sunflower oil (Haymax is around £5 at Amazon). I imagine vaseline does the same job,  but this smells of lavender oil. The only thing to be careful of is not getting in your eyes and if you blow your nose it may need reapplying.
  • Piriteze (cetirizine hydrochloride) – the most common over the counter pill. It warns it may cause drowsiness but  I have not experienced. It is NOT on any prohibited anti-doping list.
  • Pirinase (Fluticasone propionate nasal spray). This is a nasal spray. I brought for first time and it did work (though I used in conjuction with the beeswax)
  • Avoid riding into long grass. On country roads, it is very easy to brush against long grass spraying from the roadside
  • Air filter. I bought a Levoit Air Purifier. (Amazon) It is only £90.00 and doesn’t take too much space. In summer I have put on high setting in my room which gives clean air. I’m a bit embarassed to say I also bought a Dyson Air purifer, which looks very nice, but costs four times the price and does the same thing.
  • Avoid pollutants where possible. Avoid smoky candles and chemically scented room sprays which can execerbate the problem of allegies.
  • Wrap around sunglasses. I have partial wrap around sunglasses, which are essential. But, I am considering finding some even closer and bigger wrap around glasses. The kind of glasses which are a fashion nightmare but will keep more pollen out of the corner of the eyes. I’m thinking of those horrendous Oakley eyeshades of the 1980s, sported by Greg Lemond (and later half the peleton)


See more sunglasses at Cycling Tips

  • Ride in the rain. The worst days for pollen counts are after dry, warm weather where the pollen can accumulate. Rain reduces pollen count by washing it away.
  • Ride early in the morning. Another good time to cycle is early in the morning when the air is still cooler and there is some dew.
  • Shower and wash eyes and nose. As soon as you return take a shower and get out of clothes. At the weekend I tried flushing my nostrils with a bit of water; it felt weird but it felt like it got some pollen out. Wash with water around the eyes.

Checking medication

When racing I got into a habit of very carefully checking any medication. It was pretty easy because the only thing I ever took was the Piriteze for some of the summer during hayfever seasons. Even though I am no longer racing, I instinctively checked the fluticasone with UK Anti-doping. It’s the kind of habit that is good to get into. I’m a fan of the Japenese system of pointing when directing trains. (Atlas Obscura). It’s making a physical routine to improve safety. So it’s the same with anti-doping – even if you have very rare chance of  racing/getting tested, developing a careful routine with what you take and knowing about it, helps stay safe and not make any mistakes which could have serious repercussions later. Fluticasone is prohibited if you take in oral or injection form during competition but not nasal spray.

There was a lot of controversy about Bradley Wiggins use of the corticoid triamcinolone (Guardian article). He took injections to deal with hayfever.  Given the product had been abused by past dopers, his decision to take just before Tour de France was seen as very suspicious in a sport dominated by suspicion. The sad thing is for chronic hayfever sufferers (which fortunately I am not) a seasonal injection can have a major benefit for reducing symptoms when over the counter medicine doesn’t work. WADA is also understanably looking at banning all cotiscoids given the disparity and unfairness in how it has been used in the past. (Cycling Weekly)


The woods around Frieth/ Christmas Common at the weekend.

Despite high pollen levels the changes I made have helped so far really helped. This week, I was able to cycle well despite almost tasting the pollen in the air. We could definitely do with some heavy rain (for gardens) and clear the air. But the beeswax is definitely a good addition.


5 thoughts on “Cycling and hayfever”

  1. It’s probably not so much of a problem if you live in a town or city, or if you dry your laundry other than outside, on a washing line, but doing the latter can lead to pollen falling on it, which is then brought indoors. I “acquired” hayfever late in life, and, for a long while, was puzzled as to how it could occasionally affect me badly indoors, and on low pollen days.

    It turns out that pollen on laundry, including bed sheets, was the culprit. It’s difficult to avoid this if you dry your washing outside, in the hayfever seasons, but I try to dry on “low pollen” days, and give it all a good shaking before it comes indoors.

  2. You’re not alone this year. For whatever reason it seems to be anecdotally worse for many people.
    Previously it would just knock me out for a bit, with barely any other symptoms, until I remembered to start taking loratadine come late March and then all was fine but this year it’s a different story.

    I still suffer relatively mild symptoms in the grand scheme of things but it’s extended to catarrh at the back of the throat, increased lethargy at peak times and a strange chestyness besides, to the point where the doctor recommended I monitor peak breath levels to check for asthma (all was actually fine on that score).

    It’s had me madly speculating as to what might have changed. Just a strange year with a mild winter/early spring or has lockdown and, ironically, improved air quality thrown a curve ball at our immune systems, somehow changing the make up of the pollen…yes, I did say madly speculating…

    The tree pollen season seemed to be worse for me but still suffering on and off with the grass pollen season in full swing. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it either – pollen count forecast is often neither here nor there and even if I stay inside all day with all the windows shut it still causes issues intermittently, particularly in the late evening when pollen tends to fall in the cooling air and cause increased levels 🤷‍♂️


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