Q: Why Does My Nose Get Stuffy After a Workout?
The question: A lot of times when I push myself hard during a workout, I feel like I have a mini cold for like three hours, and then it goes away. Why does this happen?
The experts: Aaron Pearlman, M.D., an assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College; Sabrina Strickland, M.D., an orthopedic sports surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery
A: The answer: First the bad news: Since this annoying problem isn’t actually all that common, not much research has been done to explain why it happens. But there are a few theories, says Pearlman.
First, when you exercise, the blood flow to the tiny blood vessels in your nose starts to slow down. This shrinks the tissues responsible for creating mucus, while widening your air passages. When this happens, you take in more air—along with more of those pesky allergens floating inside the gym or outdoors, potentially triggering an allergic response, he says.
Another reason why your wider air passages might cause your nose to feel stuffy later: After you stop working out, blood rushes back to those little blood vessels in your nasal tissue. This might fill up the blood vessels toomuch, causing them to dilate, partially blocking your airways and making you feel stuffed up.
The last theory about why you feel like you’re allergic to working out is that, well, you might be having an allergic reaction to working out. You see, when you hit the gym, your body loses heat and water, and that can make cells release histamines into your blood stream causing an allergic reaction, a.k.a. your clogged nose, says Pearlman.
Not sure which of these is the culprit for your post-workout congestion? Try observing which areas of the gym trigger this reaction. For example, if you’re totally fine after a bootcamp class but always start sniffing after hitting thetreadmill, you might be allergic to the chemicals used to clean the equipment, says Strickland (who has patients who can’t work out at a gym for that exact reason). If you can nail down what aggravates your nose, you can avoid that area completely or see an allergist to get tested and get a prescription antihistamine.
If the location of your workout doesn’t seem to have any impact on your symptoms, dilation of the capillaries in your nose or your body’s allergic response to exercise might be to blame, says Pearlman. When you start feeling congested, you can try using a saline mist to rinse out the mucus. Unfortunately, there’s not much else you can do. The truth is that even though your body might be producing histamines as you work out, data shows that antihistamine medications don’t help this problem, says Pearlman.
The good news is that relief from your clogged nose should be just a few hours away. After you’re done working out, your body realizes it doesn’t have to be stressed out any more and recovers, says Pearlman. If your cold-like symptoms last longer than a few hours or you think you might be allergic to something at the gym, talk to your doctor.