Sometimes “powering through” can make you feel better when you’re sick. On the other hand, serious infections or breathing conditions make waiting it out a better strategy. The key is evaluating your symptoms.

The Dilemma

With common colds or sinus headaches, working out is generally fine, and even helpful. Because vigorous exercise opens nasal passages, pain and pressure are reduced, as is nasal congestion.

On the other hand, a sinus infection (as opposed to clogged sinuses) can be worsened by contact with outdoor allergens. In addition, mild asthma and bronchitis flare-ups might be aggravated by excess activity, because the increased oxygen you get through cardio causes your bronchial tubes to narrow.

Photo: William Stitt

Evaluating Your Symptoms

Of course, when in doubt it’s always best to check with your doctor before working out. In general, however, determining if exercise is a good idea — especially if you’re prone to a wide range of allergic and bronchial issues — can often be determined by the nature of any pain or pressure.

One method doctors often describe as the “neck check” can help. If your breathing problems seem to be centered in your lungs rather than your nasal cavities — in other words, the problem is below your neck — working out may worsen the symptoms.

In contrast, allergic reactions that are giving you headaches, runny eyes or stuffy nose — i.e., “above the neck” — typically means that working out is fine.

The exception to the neck rule comes with sinusitis. Exposing yourself to more allergens during a sinus infection can worsen the sinus allergy. Thick nasal discharge that is discolored is one way to distinguish sinus pain or a cold from actual sinusitis.

Possible Solutions

Even with a bronchial flare-up or sinusitis, compromises may allow you to get in a workout with exacerbating your condition. Swimming indoors often prevent “below the neck” issues from worsening, because the moist air you’re taking in is less aggravating to your airwaves.

Mike Wilson

Controlling your environment can also help when you have a sinus infection. With fewer outdoor allergens to get to you as you’re exercising, your less likely to suffer from a histamine overreaction. On the other hand, if interior dust or mold is the issue, experiment with outdoor workouts.