From the baseball mound to his wedding ceremony, Justin Verlander’s allergies have been problematic for as long as he can remember, affecting his personal life and athletic performance at times.
“When I first left for college, I suddenly started to get allergies so severe that I lost my voice for a week,” says the Houston Astros' star-pitcher. “I was a mess,” he adds. “I experienced all of the staple symptoms of allergies — nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and itching.”
Over the years, seasonal allergies have affected other areas of Verlander’s life. Before his wedding last May, Verlander’s fiancée (now wife), supermodel Kate Upton, told Martha Stewart Weddings that despite her love of flowers, they had to include an alternative decorative element in their wedding. “Justin has terrible allergies,” said Upton. “He’ll have to take an allergy pill.”
“When I have allergies, I’m not fun,” adds Verlander.
Verlander is not alone in living with allergies. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, allergies affect 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children — and that statistic is on the rise. Not only is the percentage of Americans with allergies increasing each year, but so are the levels of pollen and the length of allergy season.
“Pollen levels have been steadily rising over the past decades,” says Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, MD and allergist at NYU Langone in New York City. “And longer spring and fall seasons means a longer time for your nasal passages to be exposed to tissue-clogging pollen and its aftermath.”
Pollen and other allergy triggers, including animal dander, dust, mold, food, and chemicals, can result in a number of irritating symptoms that vary among individuals, including:
- Runny, stuffy nose
- Sneezing and coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Rashes and fever
- Fatigue and headache
- Nausea and vomiting
For athletes like Verlander, more time outside means more exposure to common spring allergy triggers, which has negatively affected his performance at times. “When I’m on the pitcher's mound and my eyes are watery or I’m congested, I lose focus.”
Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to control your allergies and manage symptoms. Here are Justin Verlander’s top tips for striking out seasonal allergies.
Know and avoid your triggers by getting tested
Being aware of what triggers your allergies is important in managing symptoms and maximizing comfort. Common allergy triggers that may result in a variety of irritating symptoms include:
- Animal dander
To discover what you’re allergic to, you can get an allergy test where an allergist tests your skin with a drop of a suspected allergen. After 20 minutes, if you are allergic you may experience redness or swelling. Blood tests are another way to detect allergies.
Once you identify your allergy triggers, you can take measures to treat and/or avoid them. “The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid your allergens as much as possible,” advises Dr. Bassett. “This includes removing the sources of allergens from your home and other places that you spend time.”
In those with seasonal allergies, such as Verlander, who plays a sport that requires him to spend a great deal of time outdoors, you may not be able to completely avoid your allergy trigger.
“Since it isn’t always feasible to avoid allergens, there are many safe prescription and over-the-counter medicines to prevent or relieve allergy symptoms,” says Bassett.
Pretreat your allergies to avoid flare-ups
If you know you’re going to come in contact with a triggering substance, you can pretreat your allergies to avoid a flare-up of symptoms. Waiting until mid-season to treat your allergies can result in exacerbated symptoms, require heavy-duty medication, and lead to more serious problems such as sinusitis.
“The best offense is a great defense, and I have found that pretreating your seasonal allergies (especially before peak-season) truly helps to reduce seasonal symptoms dramatically,” says Bassett.
According to Harvard Health, when spring allergens such as pollen float through the air and reach your nose, mast cells in the lining of your nose categorize the tree particles as dangerous and release histamine and tryptase out of defense.
Histamine and tryptase travel through the blood and latch onto receptors within immune system cells, causing inflammation. The inflammation then triggers typical allergy symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and a sore throat.
Taking antihistamine medications before you begin to experience symptoms can block the histamine receptors and prevent symptom-causing inflammation. Another option is to receive immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Immunotherapy exposes patients to an allergen with the goal of reducing their sensitivity to it.
Pay attention to weather forecasts and predictions for each new allergy season
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, knowing allergy predictions and level of pollen-counts each day will help you stay prepared.
“Spring is one of the best times of the year, but if you’re suffering with allergies, it can be really miserable,” says Verlander. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunotherapy (ACAAI), pollen is one of the most common allergy triggers. The fine, yellowish powder is transported between plants by wind, insects, birds, and other animals, and breathing it in can severely irritate allergy sufferers.
If you’re going to be outside for a long period of time, checking the pollen count can help you know what to expect and how you should prepare, such as wearing a dust mask or taking your doctor-recommended allergy medication if the pollen count is high.
In addition, living in an urban environment may worsen your seasonal allergies. “The combination of airborne pollen and street-level air pollutants can synergize,” which can exacerbate allergy symptoms, says Bassett.
According to a study published in 2015 in Multidisciplinary Respiratory Review, high levels of vehicle emissions and westernized lifestyle are correlated with an increased frequency of respiratory allergies, mainly in those who live in urban areas, compared with those residing in rural areas.
For this year, Bassett predicts an earlier allergy season. “Due to a prolonged wet winter and warmer temperatures, it is likely to see an earlier allergy season, and thus a prolonged time for pollen to affect seasonal sufferers.”
Exercise indoors on days with peak pollen levels
For outdoor athletes dealing with allergies, your allergy symptoms may impact your ability to perform at the best of your abilities.
“When it comes to training, if I can’t breathe or am congested, I can’t get the most out of my workouts,” says Verlander.
“Athletes often spend time outdoors and thus have greater exposure to rising pollen levels,” says Bassett. “Nasal congestion and associated breathing problems can potentially affect optimal and peak athletic performance.”
Bassett suggests burning your calories indoors, where exposure to pollen is reduced. “Exercising indoors may be prudent for some sufferers and is also a consideration for athletes that have asthma, triggered by seasonal pollen and molds,” suggests Bassett.
Talk to your doctor and create an allergy action plan
Everyone’s allergy experience is different, so meeting with your doctor to come up with a personalized treatment plan will help you manage your worst allergy symptoms this season.
“There are three modalities to a successful allergy action plan: confirming the diagnosis, avoiding and/or modifying exposure to allergens, and treatments,” says Bassett.
Once allergy triggers are confirmed through an allergy test, your doctor will help you choose the best medication for your type of allergy. There are a variety of prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications on the market, broken down into three categories:
For Verlander, the nasal spray Flonase, which acts on multiple inflammatory substances including histamines, helps relieve his worst allergy symptoms. “I tried everything, and Flonase allows me to be 100 percent.”
Without a proper treatment plan, he wouldn’t be able to perform as successfully as he does today. “When I’m greater than my allergies, then I don’t have to worry,” says Verlander. “I can focus on the game and perform to the best of my abilities.”
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