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Can You Be Allergic to Exercise?

It sounds absolutely crazy, right? Exercise isn’t something you put in your body—it’s what you do when you move around. How could you be allergic to movement?

Well, it’s not actually an allergy to exercise, per se. Instead, it’s typically an allergic reaction to a certain food, and it takes exercise to trigger the reaction.

Let us explain…

Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis

Certain foods are prone to triggering an allergic reaction in your body. Peanuts are the trigger for those with peanut allergies, milk is a trigger for those with lactose intolerance, and so on. However, not everyone is highly allergic to these foods—some people only have mild allergic reactions or even none visible under normal conditions.

However, when you exercise, your blood flow increases, which means the flow of blood to your stomach and intestines increases. This can increase the amount of allergic reaction-inducing food particles, triggering a much more visible response. This is known as exercise-induced anaphylaxis, as it’s the exercise that’s triggering (inducing) the allergic response.

Exercise-induced anaphylaxis is fairly rare—less than 1 in 1,000 people will ever experience it, and only 1,000 cases have ever been documented since 1970. It’s usually only experienced by people who have specific food allergies, including allergies to eggs, shellfish, and peanuts.

What types of exercise are most likely to trigger this anaphylaxis? Jogging and running are the most common forms of exercise, but anything from strenuous yard work to skiing to dancing to team sports can trigger the reaction.

The good news: there’s a simple secret to avoiding this problem! All you have to do is avoid any allergen foods (like peanuts, shellfish, eggs, etc.) before your workout, and wait at least 1-2 hours between eating and exercising. That will give your body time to digest the food and eliminate the antigens caused by the allergic reaction-triggering food.

Cholinergic Urticaria

Cholinergic urticaria is a different type of exercise allergy, one that presents in the form of a skin rash. It’s similar to heat rashes, in that it leads to a sudden outbreak of hives, itching, and redness.

This form of heat rash can be triggered by a number of things: exposure to the sun, spicy foods, exercise, getting emotionally worked up, and even wearing too-hot clothing. All of these things can raise your body temperature quickly, which can lead to the outbreak of this rash. Women are most prone to this condition, which can strike spontaneously.

The good news is that cholinergic urticaria won’t cause breathing difficulties like with exercise-induced anaphylaxis. It’s simply a skin reaction and nothing else.

To prevent or treat this problem, take your time warming up before and cooling down after exercise. This will help to prevent the sudden rise and drop in body temperature that leads to the skin outbreak. Or, try doing exercises like swimming, which can help to keep your body cool as you work out. Also, avoid any foods that could trigger the allergic reaction, especially in the 90-120 minutes before your workout.

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