See more of the story

Along with warmer weather and more daylight, spring brings an explosion of pollen, which can make exercising outdoors an itchy, sniffly challenge.

While anyone who spends time outdoors will be exposed to allergens, exercisers often feel their effects more severely because they inhale higher doses, according to experts.

For the more than 25% of American adults who are sensitive to seasonal allergens, exposure can irritate the airway from the nose down to the lungs, which can affect both exercise performance and recovery.

"When the tissues in your nose swell, it's mechanically harder for air to get from your nose into your airway," said Dr. Manan Shah, an allergist in Denver who works with athletes to optimize their performance.

The inflammation often lingers after a workout and can affect sleep and prevent muscles from healing properly. The key, according to Shah, is to prevent allergic reactions from happening in the first place, because inflammation can be tough to control once it starts.

Here's some advice about exercising amid allergens:

• Be strategic about when you work out.

When you train outdoors, you can't avoid allergens entirely, but you can limit the amount by exercising either in the early morning or the early evening, when pollen counts are often lower and moisture can tamp them down.

"During the cooler times of the day, there's going to be a little bit less pollen production," said Dr. Pedro Lamothe, an assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in allergies. For most plants, the higher the temperature climbs, the higher the pollen production.

Another ideal time to exercise is after it rains, because rain cleans the air and forces pollen and other allergens to the ground, he said. Avoid working outdoors on dry, windy days, when more pollen and other allergens circulate in the air.

• Take the right medications at the right time.

The most effective way to prevent seasonal allergies from wrecking your workout is to be diligent about taking the right medications before you head outside.

If you go into a workout with allergic symptoms, "they're just going to get worse," Lamothe said. "You're going to go into a vicious cycle."

You can take an oral antihistamine such as Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra at least an hour before exercising, which will give the medicine time to kick in before you start moving. (Avoid Benadryl, which can make you sleepy.) For extra protection, Lamothe recommends using an antihistamine nasal spray such as Astepro about 20 minutes before exercising. If you have itchy eyes, you can use antihistamine eyedrops, too.

• Check the air quality beforehand.

If your airway is already inflamed, you may be especially sensitive to other air pollutants floating around, such as car exhaust or wildfire smoke, according to David C. Nieman, an exercise scientist and the director of Appalachian State University's Human Performance Laboratory. "Air pollution makes it all worse," he said.

If the air quality index rating is higher than 100 (or orange on the scale), you may be better off exercising indoors until it improves.

• Wear protective gear.

A few key accessories can limit the allergens entering your system, said Dr. Sonya Parashar, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic. For instance, she recommended a brimmed hat or visor and sunglasses to protect your eyes. If you can endure it, wearing a mask also can reduce the amount of pollen you inhale.

• Wash away allergens as soon as you get home.

Leave your shoes at the door, change out of your workout clothes and put them right into the washing machine, if you have one, or a closed bag or hamper, Shah said, Then shower right away, both to wash allergens off your body and to clear them out of your nose and eyes.

"The whole goal is to get them out of your system so they're not continuously irritating your upper airway for the rest of the day," Shah said.