Could you be allergic to exercise?

While we may roll our eyes at those who say that they are adverse to exercise, but it’s possible that they have a real medical condition!

Could You Be Allergic to Exercise?
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Could You Be Allergic to Exercise?

How many of us have already abandoned our resolution for 2021 and stopped exercising? We threw on the trainers, ran for 10 minutes, and then called it a day. We get it – finding the motivation to push through the discomfort and sometimes pain while exercisingis sometimes difficult especially during lockdown. However, for some, there could actually be a real pathological factor at play. They could suffer exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA).

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In layman’s terms, this translates to an allergy to exercise. Its symptoms are actually quite comparable to a food allergy: redness, rashes, shortness of breath, swelling, or even nausea. This particular allergy affects approximately 2% of the Western population according to a 2010 study published in the scientific journal Current Allergy and Asthma Reports.

Multiple factors at play

Manifestations of the symptoms could appear either during or after exercise. The most high-risk activities are those that are high intensity: cycling, tennis, and running for example. That isn’t to say that less intense physical activity is not without its risk, in fact, a short walk or an activity like gardening could very well cause symptoms to arise.

While often viewed as a less serious allergy, EIA could bring on some serious reactions that could threaten the life of the bearer of the symptoms. A closed throat or a sudden drop in blood pressure could mean death in certain cases. EIA, like any other allergy, triggers dysfunction of the immune system and its creation of antibodies.

Specific cells – mast cells – release histamine, a molecule that induces inflammation in the body’s tissue, thus causing the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Unknown origins

Scientists are still unable to clearly identify the link between physical activity and the allergy, as laboratory experiments are struggling to replicate the exact conditions that researchers have identified as triggers of EIA. Maria Castells, an allergist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in America, explained to Popular Science:

There's no mouse model and no human model of the ideas.

However, one thing is for certain: swimming is the only physical activity they’ve discovered that doesn’t provoke an allergic reaction. Even more surprisingly, researchers have noted some test patients suffering from EIA only saw their symptoms triggered with consumption of certain foods, regardless of whether or not it was before or after exercising. The culprits: wheat-based foods and shellfish.

What are the symptoms of EIA?

Those who suffer from exercise-induced anaphylaxis can expect to experience symptoms such as:

  • hives
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • swelling
  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing

Signs that your symptoms have evolved into anaphylactic shock include:

  • pale, clammy skin
  • weak, rapid pulse
  • breathing problems
  • confusion and loss of consciousness

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, try to get someone near you to call emergency services.

Prevention and preparation

The best way for those suffering from the variation of EIA linked to food is to avoid those trigger foods entirely. While this may do wonders for reducing the discomfort brought on by the symptoms of EIA, Maria Castells suggests that those afflicted by the allergy to always carry an Epipen or other brand of epinephrine (adrenaline) autoinjector. Allergies could trigger anaphylactic shock which could lead to death.

So while an allergy to exercise may seem funny or like a poor excuse to sit at home instead of working out, it truly is a serious medical condition with very real consequences. Exercise caution when you decide to go out for your next run.

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