Exercise allergy or Cholinergic urticaria in scientific terms, is a condition that causes the body to itch making it extremely uncomfortable to exercise.
In very rare cases, a sweaty workout could be enough to kill a person. This itching is caused by the body heating up through exercise. Histamine is released which produces a very prickly and itchy feeling in the skin.
According to consultant physician Esther Dindi says that hives has various triggers including food allergies. Dr Dindi who also runs a fitness and wellness campaign under ‘Doctor Fitness’ brand, explains that Urticaria comes from the Latin word ‘urtica’ which means stinging nettle, which describes the feeling that a person has when they are have this allergic reaction to their sweat.
“These heat-raising activities trigger your sweat glands to produce a chemical that causes an itchy feel,” she said adding that the most notorious physical stimuli of this condition includes such as pressure, cold, heat, exercise or sun exposure.
Dr Gerald W Volcheck and Dr James T C Li who have published a paper on the condition titled ‘Exercise-Induced Urticaria and Anaphylaxis,’ say that the condition can also be triggered by the food you eat before exercise. They also found out that in rare cases, it runs in families.
“Cholinergic urticaria induced by exercise usually manifests approximately six minutes after onset of exercise and increases for approximately 12 to 25 minutes. Generally, urticaria begins on the upper part of the thorax and neck but may occur anywhere on the body,” read excerpts of the research published on Mayo clinic proceedings publication.
Although some people have been able to identify the condition and mange it, some do not know what they are suffering from. Although the exact cause of these allergic reactions is not identified, Dr Dindi says that
“Antihistamines are prescribed to decrease the uncomfortable feeling. They block the effect of histamine, a chemical in the skin that can cause allergy symptoms or anti-itch salves, to ease the symptoms.”
The good thing about anti-allergic medicines is that they can be taken prior to exercise, to minimize the itchy feeling, thus enabling the person to have a stress-free exercise. In extreme reactions, swelling of the face, throat, fingers and toes can happen. In other cases, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea can also happen. It is more common in men than their female counterparts because they sweat more during a workout, Dindi noted.
Skin specialist Evanson Kamuri says the condition has no known cure though it can be effectively managed through medications or lifestyle changes. This enables a person to lead a normal lifestyle enjoying exercise and all other activities that trigger it.
She notes that persons with this conditions have no overt signs until they are exposed to an increase in temperature. “The itch can begin on the wrists, hands, neck, face or the entire body. It depends on the part of the body exposed to a lot of heat,” said Kamuri.
Light therapy, also known as photo therapy, is one of the available options to treat this condition, however it can only be given by a dermatologist who measures the exposure to Ultra violet light. “steroids can be used at times . However, this is a reserve for severe cases,” said Kamuri
Dr Volcheck and his colleague provide a possible remedy for the prevention of urticaria that is triggered by food.
However this can only be established by eliminating some food types from diets or taking medications to prevent the hives or reduce the severity of symptoms.
“When implicated, elimination of all food 6 hours before exercise and avoidance of the medication are the easiest strategies. A food diary may be helpful if the patient is unable to recall what a person ate before exercise,” he states. And if symptoms persist, it is important to modify exercise by reducing the intensity of the workouts like swimming and walking which are less demanding exercises.