Exercising in specific conditions, like cold and dry air, can increase your risk of exercise-induced rhinitis.

If you’ve ever gotten a runny nose while jogging in chilly, dry conditions, you’ve experienced exercise-induced rhinitis (EIR).

EIR is a type of rhinitis (inflammation in the nasal passages) that occurs specifically during exercise. It can lead to symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and nasal itching when you’re physically active.

Although EIR can be uncomfortable, it’s typically more of a nuisance than a major hindrance for those who exercise. The good news is there are numerous strategies and medications available to help you prevent or alleviate its symptoms.

Exercise can lead to a condition called EIR. Characteristic symptoms of EIR include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and nasal itching during or after physical activity.

While the exact cause of EIR isn’t fully understood, research suggests that it involves factors including:

  • Airway dehydration: Exercise can lead to a loss of moisture in your airways, including both the nasal passages and the bronchial airways (the tubes that carry air into your lungs). This dehydration can contribute to inflammation.
  • Hyperpnoea: Hyperpnoea refers to rapid or excessive breathing during exercise. It can affect both the nasal and bronchial airways.
  • Fluid hyperosmolarity: Changes in fluid balance within the airways can occur during exercise, potentially contributing to inflammation.
  • Neutrophilic inflammation: Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell involved in the body’s immune response. Inflammation involving neutrophils can occur in both the nasal and bronchial airways during exercise.
  • Histamine release: Histamine is a chemical released by the body during allergic reactions and inflammation. Its release can contribute to the symptoms of rhinitis and asthma.
  • Mast cell degranulation: Mast cells are immune cells that play a role in allergies and asthma. When they release certain substances, it can trigger inflammation in the airways.

The symptoms of EIR can resemble those of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and may include:

  • nasal congestion
  • rhinorrhea (excessive nasal discharge or a runny nose, often clear and watery)
  • sneezing
  • nasal itching
  • postnasal drip (drip of mucus down the back of the throat)
  • reduced sense of smell

EIR can affect individuals who take part in physical activity (both indoor and outdoor), but some groups may have a greater chance of developing this condition.

Here are some factors that can increase the chance of EIR:

  • Athletes: EIR is common in athletes, particularly in high intensity or endurance sports, due to the heightened breathing rate and airflow. According to research, rhinitis (40–74%) is most common in swimmers, followed by cross-country skiers (46%) and then track and field athletes (21–49%).
  • Chlorine exposure: Swimmers, particularly elite swimmers who train in chlorinated pools, may have an elevated risk of EIR due to chlorine and other pool chemicals that can irritate the nasal passages. In fact, up to 74% of elite swimmers experience non-allergic nasal symptoms.
  • Allergic rhinitis: Individuals with a history of allergic rhinitis may be more prone to developing EIR, as exercise can exacerbate their existing nasal allergies.
  • Pre-existing respiratory conditions: People with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma may be at a higher risk of EIR, as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) and nasal symptoms can sometimes co-occur. However, while research suggests EIR shares similarities with exercise-induced asthma and allergic rhinitis, it’s not solely limited to individuals with nasal allergies or asthma.
  • Environmental conditions: Exercising in certain conditions, such as cold, dry air or areas with high levels of airborne allergens like pollen or pollution, may increase your chance of EIR.

Diagnosis and treatment methods for EIR aren’t standardized, but potential treatments may include:

Does exercise-induced rhinitis go away?

EIR can vary from person to person. In some cases, EIR may improve or go away on its own, especially with appropriate management or the avoidance of triggers.

To help prevent EIR, consider these tips:

  • Warm-up gradually: Begin your exercise routine with a gentle warm-up to allow your nasal passages and airways to adjust gradually to increased airflow and body temperature.
  • Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration can help maintain proper mucous membrane function in your nose and airways.
  • Breathe through your nose: Whenever possible, try to breathe through your nose during exercise. Nasal breathing can help humidify and filter the air before it reaches your lungs, reducing the likelihood of irritation.
  • Choose the right environment: If you have outdoor allergies, check pollen levels before exercising outside. Also, be cautious when exercising in cold air or chlorinated water, as they can irritate your nasal passages.
  • Use a nasal spray: Talk to a healthcare professional about using a saline nasal spray before exercise. Saline can help keep your nasal passages moist and reduce irritation.
  • Avoid exercise in extreme conditions: Exercising in very cold or dry conditions can exacerbate EIR symptoms. If possible, choose a climate-controlled environment.

While EIR can indeed be bothersome, the good news is that it’s relatively manageable. Many individuals find relief by taking preventive measures or using medications when needed.

If you experience EIR, consider these strategies: warm up gradually, stay well-hydrated, breathe through your nose, and use saline nasal sprays.

By following these steps and seeking professional guidance, you can continue to enjoy an active life with less discomfort.