Some people are actually allergic to exercise — this is what it's like and why it happens

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

Photo By: Geert Pieters

We don't all have good excuses to get out of exercising.But some people are actually "allergic" to working out.It is called "exercise-induced anaphylaxis," and affects about 2% of people.Doctors think having an intolerance to certain foods combined with physical exertion causes an allergic reaction.

Sometimes when I exercise, I get hives on my arms or the back of my legs. It's a bit like when I go near a horse and get an allergic reaction, but without the itchiness and inability to breathe.

This puts me on the lower end of the spectrum of having "exercise-induced anaphylaxis," or EIA. It's basically an allergy to exercise, and it affects about 2% of the population.

It most often happens after vigorous physical activity like jogging, tennis, dancing, and bicycling. But lower levels of exercise such as walking can also cause a reaction.

My EIA isn't severe enough to make me stop running, but for other people it can be. In some rare cases, it can even be deadly.

It's quite similar to other allergies, which differ in severity from person to person. During an allergic reaction, your immune system makes antibodies — proteins in the blood that fight bacteria and foreign bodies. When someone with EIA exercises, antibodies are produced to fight against something, even though they aren't needed.

Antibodies release several different immune system chemicals, such as histamine, which cause allergy symptoms like a runny nose and inflamed skin.

EIA symptoms include hives, flushing, wheezing, and sometimes digestion problems. If you keep exercising when it occurs, your reaction could get more severe, such as throat closing, or low blood pressure, which can lead to circulatory failure.

That all sounds pretty scary. And it's the main reason I still take my inhaler to the gym, even though I haven't really needed it for several years.

It might be caused by your diet

Doctors don't always know what causes it.


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