The Summer Olympics begin on August 5. Athletes, families and fans are preparing for their once in a lifetime trip to Rio. While most people worry about contracting Zika or falling ill to the local delicacies, it’s important to be aware of your allergies.
You’ll be in a different country with a different climate. It’s impossible to predict if or when you will be exposed to an allergen. No one wants to be at the Olympics sneezing, coughing or dealing with itchy eyes, especially while trying to watch Michael Phelps win his one-millionth medal.
More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI). They are making travel, among other activities, quite uncomfortable.
You can track the allergy forecast in Rio day by day. “Knowing your triggers and how to avoid them and take appropriate medication before symptoms start is the best course of action,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, says.
“Usually if you are having severe symptoms, herbs will not be enough to treat your symptoms and you should stick to controller medications that have been tested for safety and efficacy,” she adds.
The biggest trigger is pollen, seemingly unescapable tiny grains. “It is hard to avoid pollen, as the particles can often travel for 50 miles at a time,” Dr. Parikh says. “Some simple steps are to stay indoors during high pollen times (mornings) and wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.”
Masks may be helpful but not always recommended. Also, rinse your hair and shower to wash any pollen off before going to sleep so it does not stay on your body all night, Dr. Parikh adds.
You may want to bring your allergy meds with you even though the peak season has come and gone in the U.S. “There are preventative medications such as eye drops, nasal sprays and anti-histamine tablets we give patients so it is a good idea to discuss with your doctor if your symptoms are severe or you have breathing problems such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath,” Dr. Parikh says.
No medication is without risk so be aware of over-the counter meds. “Allergy pills, specifically antihistamines, can be dangerous if too many are taken due to the side effects of dryness and drowsiness,” she adds.
When you’re outside watching the Games
“When outdoors preventative medications such as nasal sprays, eye drops, and antihistamines are best,” Dr. Parikh says. “Also precautions such as wearing protective sunglasses can be helpful. Staying well hydrated also can reduce congestion and mucus,” she adds.
Avoid contact lenses
“Contact lenses leave the majority of your eyes vulnerable and exposed to allergens,” Dr. Parikh says. “Moreover, allergens can stick to your contacts causing irritation.”
However, there are prescription allergy antihistamine drops that you can use 10 minutes before putting contacts in to ameliorate symptoms.
“Depending on severity of symptoms, we prescribe a protective regimen of medications to take prior to exposure to symptoms, such as nasal steroids or antihistamines for sneezing and congestion and possibly a preventative inhaler for the cough if it is linked to allergic asthma symptoms,” Dr. Parikh says. Some may also require eye drops and allergy pills.
“It is always important to bring your emergency epinephrine auto injector because you never know where and when you will be exposed to an allergen, especially with language barriers,” Dr. Parikh says.
Tell staff at all airlines, restaurants, and hotels of your allergies upon arrival. “Some people with severe allergies opt to bring their own food they have prepared or bought from the U.S. abroad so they have control over what they eat,” she adds.
“Always when traveling we recommend keeping all of your medications – pills, sprays, EpiPen, inhalers in your carry-on baggage so it is not lost and you are not without medication at any time,” Dr. Parikh says.