10 Outdoor Adventures With Allergies

Avoid allergy symptoms at outdoor events.

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 05, 2012

Whether you’re hiking, at a sports game, or a guest at an outdoor wedding, a bit of careful planning can help keep your allergy symptoms at bay so you can enjoy the great outdoors.

Here are tips from allergy experts.

Challenge #1: Botanical Gardens

The problem: Flowers aren't likely to be the worst allergens here, although it may be the first thing you think of. Pollen from brightly colored flowers is carried by insects from plant to plant -- not by the wind. So there's less airborne pollen from these flowers.

Instead, pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds are more likely to trigger your allergies.

Prevent by: Check pollen counts before going; if it's really high, consider rescheduling. Go at a time of day that's more allergy-friendly. Plants typically release pollen shortly after sunrise, but pollen travels best on midday breezes. So, airborne pollen is often highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Time your visit for late afternoon.

If you typically take an antihistamine, take it before heading out. If you are on prescription allergy medicines, take them as directed but before you go. Take along the meds, including an over-the-counter saline nasal spray.

Once there: Keep the medicine handy. You can use the saline nose spray several times a day.

Challenge #2: Fresh-Air Weddings

The problem: These events usually coincide with high pollen season. That's typically spring and summer although some outdoor wedding dates could extend into the fall.

Prevent by: Use your medicine -- antihistamines, nasal sprays if you have them – before you’re outside. Take along an over-the-counter saline nose spray.

If you're the bride or groom, check the typical pollen count for your area before setting the date. You can also minimize exposure to allergens by having the ceremony outside and moving the reception indoors, for instance.

Go ahead and splurge on the bouquets. Flowers rarely cause the problem. It's more the pollens from trees and grasses.

Once there: If symptoms flare despite the preventive action, slip away and use the nasal saline spray. Shake pollen off your clothes if possible.

Challenge #3: Sporting Events

The problem: The biggest problem allergen will depend partly on the season. At an evening football game in the fall, for instance, you probably will be exposed to a high level of weed pollen and mold spores from dying grass and decaying leaves.

Prevent by: Again, use over-the-counter or prescription medicines before your event.

Once there: If allergies kick up, try the saline nose spray. If that doesn't work, avoidance is best.

Challenge #4: Car Racetrack

The problem: Auto racing draws legions of fans, but once at the track, car exhaust can be a problem for people with allergies. Exhaust is not an allergen, but it can irritate and be a big bother for people with allergies.

Prevent by: Take allergy medicines before the event. But because the symptoms triggered by the exhaust are not a true allergic reaction, an over-the-counter decongestant may help relieve symptoms better than an antihistamine. Be sure to also take a bottle of saline nose spray.

Once there: Use the nose spray to help pollen and exhaust-related problems.

Challenge #5: Horseback Riding

The problem: If you're at the local stables, or riding horses on vacation, three key allergens may affect you. There's pollen (from nearby trees, grasses, and weeds), the hay, and the horse dander.

Prevent by: Two hours before you go, take an over-the-counter antihistamine that won’t make you drowsy. Or if you have a prescription antihistamine or steroid nasal spray, use that. The prescription steroid nasal spray can take a week or two to produce its full effect.

Before you leave, wash your hands thoroughly.

Once there: Don't pet the horses, then touch your face. That could set off allergic symptoms. What if you get an allergy attack anyway? Use your antihistamine. And if that doesn’t work, leave the stables.

Challenge #6: Hiking

The problem: Pollens from grasses, weeds, and trees may bother you along the trails. Check the pollen count before you go. With the Internet now, links to local pollen counts are common.

Just notice if the count is low, medium, or high. If they're expecting a high pollen count, that's not the best day for you to go on an outdoor adventure.

Prevent by: If the count is low, take your allergy medicines before setting out.

Once there: If allergy symptoms crop up, it's best to head home and hike on another day.

Challenge #7: The Zoo

The problem: In general, most zoo visitors will probably not be allergic to the animals, because of a lack of exposure.

Preventive action: If you're on allergy medicines, be sure to take them before setting out to the zoo. That's especially true for those with known sensitivity to cats.

Once there: If symptoms bother you once you're there, the best course of action is to leave.

Challenge # 8: Walking in the Rain

The problem: Mold thrives where it’s moist. So if mold kicks up your allergies, avoid walking where sidewalks are covered with moldy vegetation such as leaves and grasses.

Prevent by: Taking any allergy medicines ahead of time can help. Take them along, too.

Once there: If allergy symptoms kick up, get out of the rain, experts say. Or, try your over-the-counter saline nose spray to see if that brings relief.

Challenge #9: Day at the Beach

The problem: It’s not common, but in some people, sun exposure can bring on hives. There may be no physical symptoms, or the skin may have sores.

Prevent by: The general advice to use sunscreen, seek shade, and wear long sleeves applies to those who have the hive-like reaction to the sun, just as it does to others. Take along allergy medicines.

Once there:Antihistamines may help. If the reaction is severe, seek medical help right away.

Challenge #10: Gardening

The problem: Pollen from grasses, shrubs, trees, and weeds can all make gardening a challenge if you have allergies. But you can still enjoy a garden without sneezing.

Prevent by: Focus on plants that rely on insects for pollination, not the wind. That means planting brightly colored flowers, fruit trees, and shrubs. Among allergy-friendly flowering plants are begonia, cactus, daffodil, geranium, pansies, petunias, sunflowers, and phlox. Try St. Augustine grass. Plant azalea, hibiscus, or hydrangea. Allergy-friendly trees include apple, cherry, pear, and red maple. Consider a heavy-duty face mask, hat glasses, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt, which will all reduce contact with pollen.

Before you garden, be sure to take any allergy medications you typically use.

Once there: If pollen triggers allergic symptoms, shower and wash your hair. Change clothes to reduce your contact with pollen.

Show Sources


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "Tips to Remember: Outdoor Allergens," "Pollen and Mold Counts."

Andy Nish, MD, allergist and immunologist, Gainesville, Ga.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Gardening with Allergies."

Derek Johnson, MD, allergist and immunologist, Fairfax, Va.

Jeff Demain, MD, allergist and immunologist, Anchorage, Al, and associate clinical professor of pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle; founder and president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Alaska chapter; regional governor, region 6, American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

Medscape: "Urticaria, Solar."

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