4 Reasons You May Be Allergic to Exercise

4 Ways that Exercise can Cause Allergic Reactions

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Exercise is something that we all should be doing more often, but yet most of us find reasons not to do. Many people resolve to start, continue or increase an exercise program every January, only to fail in this resolution by February. Failure to exercise on a regular basis is often simply due to laziness, lack of discipline, loss of interest, or as a result of schedule conflicts. For a small group of people, however, exercise can result in allergic reactions – some simply annoying and others life-threatening.

Learn about the most common causes of allergies to exercise, and how these conditions can be treated.

Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis

Exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA) is a form of chronic hives that is caused by exercise. However, people can also experience symptoms of a more severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis . Other than hives, people with EIA may have breathing difficulties (shortness of breath, wheezing), circulatory problems (lightheadedness, low blood pressure) and gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea).

As its name implies, EIA occurs as a result of exercise. Exercise can be of any form, including jogging, tennis, swimming, walking, or even strenuous chores such as shoveling snow. Symptoms may start as tiredness, warmth, itching and redness, usually within a few minutes of starting exercise. If exercise continues, hives begin to occur, and may include swelling of the face, lips, eyes and throat (angioedema), and ultimately anaphylaxis.

Cholinergic Urticaria

Cholinergic urticaria (CU) is a form of chronic hives that is caused by an increase in body temperature. Hives are caused by any increase in body temperature, such as hot showers, exercise, spicy foods, or being under too many covers in bed at night. Strong emotions may also cause hives to occur in people with CU.

The hives in cholinergic urticaria are classically pinpoint in size, less than the size of a mosquito bite. These may group together, or coalesce, into larger hives over time. Occasionally, cholinergic urticaria can be associated with more severe symptoms, including asthma symptoms and low blood pressure.

It is important to make sure a person does not have exercise-induced anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction associated with exercise. People with cholinergic urticaria will often have hives with any increase in body temperature, such as with a hot bath, not just exercise. It is not completely known why cholinergic urticaria occurs, although some of these people appear to have an allergy to their own sweat. This is determined by performing skin testing to a person’s own sweat.

Exercise Asthma

Most asthmatics have increased asthma symptoms with exercise. Asthma most often involves inflammation of the airways, which can influence constriction of smooth muscles around the airways, causing symptoms of asthma.

Triggers of asthma symptoms can include exposure to allergens, cold and dry air, exercise, stress, irritants, acid reflux and viral infections.

However, only a small percentage of people, however, have true exercise-induced asthma (which is known medically as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction). The strictest definition of exercise-induced asthma is asthma that is only worsened by exercise and not other triggers. The ways that exercise causes worsening of asthma symptoms is similar for exercise-induced asthma as it is with other forms of asthma worsened by exercise.

Exercise results in cooling and drying of the airways, which leads to constriction of smooth muscle around the airways, causing worsening of asthma symptoms. The amount of exercise required to trigger symptoms in asthmatics varies from person to person, although the more vigorous the exercise, the more severe the symptoms. Asthma symptoms usually get the worst as soon as airway re-warming occurs, such as when exercise stops.

Exercise Induced Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) is a syndrome that causes asthma-like symptoms as a result of abnormal closure of the vocal cords. Symptoms may include "wheezing," shortness of breath, and chest or neck tightness. VCD can closely mimic asthma, so much so that this syndrome has also been called vocal cord asthma. Asthma medications have no effect on VCD, so people with this condition may have been to the emergency room many times and given asthma medications, including oral corticosteroids, without relief of their symptoms.

VCD seems to be triggered in various ways. Some people with VCD have exercise as the only trigger for their symptoms. The amount of exercise needed to trigger the VCD may depend on the individual. In other people with VCD, stress and anxiety, particularly in social situations, is a common trigger for VCD. Other people have their VCD triggered by irritants, such as GERD, or the inhalation of various environmental irritants such as strong odors or perfumes.


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DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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