BREATHE EASY ON YOUR HIKE (Navigate Allergy Triggers Like a Pro)
By ANNIE RITCHIE / April 14, 2023
It started a few days ago: the dreaded pollen itch! Being an outdoor enthusiast with grass and pollen allergies means I await the arrival of Spring with mixed feelings. Wildflowers and blossoms are beautiful, but they do wreak havoc on my histamine levels.
My morning walk is now punctuated with sniffs and sneezes, but all is not lost. Over the years I have found a few things that help me and I’m happy to share those tips with you.
The first step is to identify your specific allergies. Many people assume that they are only allergic to pollen, but there are many other common allergens found on the trail, including mold, dust, and animal dander. If you’re not sure what you’re allergic to, consider getting an allergy test from your doctor.
Research Your Hiking Destination
Once you know your allergens, you can take steps to avoid them. Research the areas you plan to hike in to learn what allergens may be present. Different locations have different types of plants and pollen that may trigger your allergies. If you know what to expect, you can plan accordingly.
Consider hiking in areas with less vegetation, such as beach, desert or rocky terrain, or choose trails with more shade to avoid direct exposure to the sun.
Be Mindful Of Your Surroundings
Some trails may have more exposure to allergens than others.
When you’re on the trail, be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid hiking through areas with high pollen counts, such as meadows and fields, and stick to the trail as much as possible. If you do come into contact with allergens, try to wash them off as soon as possible to minimize your reaction.
If you’re allergic to poison ivy or other plants, it’s essential to know what they look like so you can avoid them. Remember the old saying, “leaves of three, let them be.” If you do come into contact with poison ivy, wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible to minimize your reaction.
Choose Your Hiking Time Wisely
Depending on your allergens, peak allergy season may vary. For example, springtime is usually the peak season for pollen allergies, while poison ivy is most prevalent in the summer. Plan your hikes accordingly.
Keep an eye on pollen forecasts. Check the pollen count before you head out, and try to hike when the count is low.
Pollen counts are usually highest in the morning and evening, so consider hiking during midday when pollen levels are lower. Additionally, avoid hiking on windy days when pollen is more likely to be stirred up into the air.
Prepare Before You Hit The Trail Pack Appropriate Medication
Don’t forget to bring your allergy medication, such as antihistamines or inhalers, and make sure to pack extra in case of an emergency.
Applying insect repellent can be beneficial in managing allergies as it can help prevent insect bites and stings, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Insect repellents usually contain DEET or Picaridin, which repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects that may carry allergens. It is important to follow the instructions on the insect repellent bottle and reapply it as directed to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Take allergy medication before you start your hike.
Using Vaseline in your nose can act as a barrier against allergens that cause irritation and inflammation. Applying a small amount of Vaseline in the nostrils helps to trap the pollen or other allergens before they enter the nasal passages. This can help reduce the severity of allergic reactions and lessen symptoms such as itching, sneezing, and congestion. It is essential to use clean fingers or a cotton swab when applying Vaseline to avoid introducing any harmful bacteria into the nose.
Tying your hair back is a simple yet effective way to alleviate allergy symptoms. When you’re out hiking, your hair can act as a trap for pollen and other allergens, which can easily irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. By tying your hair back, you prevent it from coming in contact with your face and exacerbating your symptoms. I find even a strand of hair can set me off. And don’t even get me started on tissues – the more I touch my nose the worse it gets!
One trick I have found invaluable is washing the pollen off my face and hands regularly. If you have access to water, splashing it on your face and rinsing out your eyes works well. I like to bring along eye drops too as these help wash allergens out of your eyes. If water is not readily available, baby wipes work almost as well. Please be aware though that this means you will be wiping off any sun protection cream you may have applied earlier. So top that up too.
Wear long sleeved shirts, pants and closed-toe shoes to minimize skin exposure to allergens.
Consider wearing a hat to protect your face from pollen. When it comes to packing, consider bringing along a bandana or face mask to cover your nose and mouth. This can help filter out pollen and other airborne particles and allergens in the air.
Wearing sunglasses while hiking can help alleviate allergy symptoms, particularly those affecting the eyes. Sunglasses act as a barrier between the eyes and allergens, such as pollen, dust, and other irritants, preventing them from making direct contact with the eyes. Additionally, polarized lenses can reduce glare, which can further reduce eye strain and irritation.
Be Prepared For The Unexpected
Even with the best preparation, allergies can still flare up.
Make sure you know the signs of an allergic reaction:
If you experience any of these symptoms, take your emergency medication and seek medical attention immediately.
If you’re hiking with others, make sure they know about your allergies and what to do in case of an emergency. Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet that lists your allergies and medication, just in case.
Drinking plenty of water can help flush out allergens from your system and prevent dehydration, which can worsen allergy symptoms.
Finally, don’t let your allergies hold you back from exploring. There are plenty of beautiful trails and views to discover, even with allergies. Just be prepared and take necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience, whilst still prioritizing your health and safety. With a bit of care, you can safely navigate hiking with allergies like a pro and have a great time on the trail.