Causes of Sneezing After Exercise or Walking

Sometimes the solution to sneezing after running in the cold is to just leave that itchy woolen scarf behind. But if you're persistently sneezing after a workout, it can take some detective work to rule out potential causes, and zero in on the real trigger.

If you are sneezing after a workout, you might be allergic. (Image: Karl Tapales/Moment/GettyImages)

Allergies and Sneezing After a Workout

If outdoor workouts set off an itchy nose and sneezing, hay fever can certainly be the reason. Of course, there's a reason your doctor may stick to the more precise term "allergic rhinitis." Hay is just one of many stimulants causing a histamine reaction that leads to sneezing. It may also provoke runny nose, congested sinuses, itching eyes, and postnasal drip.

Here are just a few sneeze triggers you might encounter during various kinds of workouts, whether you're sneezing after running indoors or finishing up a walk through the park.

  • Pollen from trees, ragweed or grass. Each pollen type has its own season to "shine," so different people are affected at different times.
  • Spores from mold and certain fungi. These are especially likely to affect you during an indoor workout, if your home or fitness center has some lurking.
  • Dust mites. For people with allergic rhinitis, doing sit ups on a dusty carpet can definitely cause sneezing fits.
  • Animal dander. If you have pets, allergens may get up close and personal with your nasal passages while you're dancing up a storm (of dander) with your aerobics tape.

Coping With Non-Allergic “Achoos”

What if you've tested negative for allergies, but are still sneezing after running indoors, or sneezing after a workout outdoors? You may have non-allergic rhinitis. Mayo Clinic points out that most people don't develop this condition until after 20.

Symptoms other than sneezing after a workout can include coughing, runny or stuffy nose, and postnasal drip. Unlike hay fever, nonallergic rhinitis doesn't usually cause itchiness in your nose, throat or around your eyes.

If you mainly experience sneezing after exercise, potential culprits might include smog or car exhaust. Alternatively, fumes from cleaning supplies or carpeting used in your fitness center may trigger nonallergic rhinitis. Sneezing after running in the cold? Changes in temperature are potential allergic rhinitis triggers.

Tip

Don’t be afraid to investigate even the most “out there” theories about why you sneeze after yoga in the park, or a jog on the beach. Some people have photic sneeze reflex. That’s a fancy way of saying that going into the sunlight from a darker interior causes nerves in the nasal cavity to overreact to changes in the optic nerve.

Exploring Exercise-Induced Rhinitis

Arguably a sub-category of non-allergic rhinitis, exercise-induced rhinitis is still being studied, according to an examination of the phenomenon published in the November 2018 edition of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. But early research indicates that athletes who show no other signs of allergies or sensitivities, still suffer from nasal symptoms specifically after working out.

Because the syndrome is still hard to pin down, you may need to experiment with treatment in order to stop sneezing after a workout. Even if your condition is akin to being "allergic to exercise," that doesn't mean that you can't find the right medicine to reduce symptoms so you can still work out.

What are Your Treatment Options?

Despite the specific condition causing your sneezing after exercise, many of the prescribed treatments are the same, whether the most likely cause is allergies, non-allergic rhinitis or exercise-induced rhinitis. They include decongestants, antihistamines and corticosteroid sprays.

It can take some time to identify and eliminate certain triggers. Try reducing mold and dust sensitivities associated with sneezing after running indoors by switching to outdoor jogging. On the other hand, if some form of hay fever is your issue, moving a workout indoors during your worst season might be the best option.

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