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.
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.