Allergies May Pose Challenges for Exercisers

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

It's starting to seem like spring (at least where I live). With that said, I have noticed that dull aching throb, the congestion, the stuffy nose - in other words, the first signs of seasonal allergies. Even though they make me feel cruddy, I still want to head outside to enjoy exercising at the start of spring. So will exercise make me feel better - or worse - based on my allergies?

Importance of exercise

Let's start off by saying that regular physical activity is important. Researchers have found that exercise not only strengthens the body's cardiovascular and pulmonary system, but it also boosts the body's immunity in many ways. For instance, researchers think that being physically active helps remove bad bacteria from the lungs. Exercise also is believed to hasten the movement of antibodies and white blood cells through the body, thus attacking any intruding bacteria or virus. Exercise increases the body's temperature, which stops the growth of bacteria that otherwise could lead to an infection. With that said, experts actually don't believe that exercise can cure allergic disorders.And in at least one case, exercise may trigger a severe allergic reaction that can prove to be fatal.

What exactly is an allergy?

First of all, let's define what an allergy is. These reactions are a result of the body's immune system when it interacts with environmental substances such as pollen, bee venom, grass, mold, ragweed or pet dander. The immune system attacks the offending substances through the use of antibodies, which can lead to inflammation of the skin, clogged sinuses and airways, and an upset stomach. Common symptoms include itching, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes or a rash.

Common allergies

There are two common allergic conditions. One of these is rhinitis (also known as hay fever), which is when the nose's mucous membranes become inflamed. People who have this condition often experience sneezing, congestion, nasal discharge and itching. The second kind is called sinusitis, which is a bacterial infection of the sinus cavities. This allergic condition, which causes inflamed sinuses that can't drain, can be caused by irritation by environmental pollutants, as well as a cold or allergy attack.

Asthma also can pose a problem, when exercising with allergies. First of all, there is exercise-induced asthma, which is set off during exercise and is common among people who have chronic asthma. The second form is allergic asthma, which is triggered by breathing allergens that cause the lungs' airways to become inflamed and swollen.

Another potentially much more dangerous allergic condition is exercise-induced anaphylaxis. This condition is considered a medical emergency since it can result in difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, dizziness, loss of consciousness and death. Exercised-induced anaphylaxis doesn't occur every time someone exercises. Researchers point out that it appears to be triggered by eating food.

How to exercise if you have allergies

So what steps should you take if you have allergies and want to exercise? Here are some recommendations:

  • Consult with an allergist before you start an exercise program so you can be tested and treated.

  • Take all medications that are prescribed for your allergies.

  • Use a saline solution in a neti pot to regularly flush out mucus and irritants from your nasal passages.

  • Breathe through your nose, which filters and humidifies the air you breathe. Breathing through your mouth allows irritants into the bronchial tubes and lungs.

  • Select exercises wisely. Continuous running can cause more respiratory issues; swimming, on the other hand, poses the least irritation to the respiratory system.

  • Realize that exercise may have a delayed reaction in your body, causing chest tightness, a cough and shortness of breath.

  • Chose locations wisely. For instance, if you are allergic to grasses and pollens, avoid exercising in areas that are near open fields that contain these plants.

  • Avoid exercising where there are heavy amounts of chemical irritants, such as near major highways.

  • A prolonged warm-up and cool-down can reduce the risk of exercise-induced asthma.

  • If you're allergic to insect stings, you should carry epinephrine while exercising.
    You also should wear a medical warning bracelet.

  • If you're prone to exercise-induced anaphylaxis, you should always exercise with a partner and carry epinephrine with you. You also should know the early signs of this condition so you can stop exercising if they show up.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Allergist. (ND). Exercising with allergies and asthma.

American College of Sports Medicine. (ND). Exercising with allergies and asthma.

ENT and Allergy Associates, LLC. (1998). Exercising with allergies and asthma.

Mayo Clinic. (2013). Allergies.

MedlinePlus. (ND). Exercise and immunity.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.