Exercise and Allergies

Editor's Note: When you see these three dots surrounded by a gray rectangle — 1 — you can click on it to get further information about the topic. Click a second time, and the message goes away.

This article was edited and updated on December 31, 2016.

First, Let's Define Allergies

Allergies can cause many symptoms, but sneezing is one of the most common.

When you have an allergy, your immune system is responding negatively to a particular substance. Essentially, your body has become hypersensitive to that substance, and reactions can be anywhere from annoyingly itchy eyes to frequent sneezing or severe sinus congestion. You may be allergic to just one thing, or you may be allergic to numerous things. Unfortunately, in some cases, it can lead to death; this is more likely with a food allergy such as peanuts.

People can be allergic to just about anything. Here are the more common allergies divided into categories:

According to the statistical data, about 2.5 million Canadians suffer from food allergies. According to one website, Edmonton is the worst city in Canada for those who suffer from allergies:

"'In the Prairies, the second most common allergy... is outdoor moulds', says Dr. Stuart Carr, an Edmonton-based allergist and President of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 'Any place that is a dry, agricultural sort of an environment, you’ll get a lot of mould,' explains Dr. Carr. He says moulds typically come from grain crops and other Prairie vegetation."

The next cities on the "top five" list are, in order: Toronto, Vancouver, Windsor, and Halifax.

"'[In] Vancouver, the tree-filled landscape is a nature lover’s paradise, but for those with allergies to tree pollen it’s another story. Not only does Vancouver have a high concentration of trees to begin with, but ... cities often choose to plant male trees to avoid the cleanup of seeds and fruit, which female trees produce,' explains horticulturalist and allergy gardening expert Thomas Ogren. 'The problem with this is male trees produce allergenic pollen. The most common tree pollens seen in Vancouver are alder and birch, which can cause severe reactions including asthma attacks for those with allergies to it.'" 3

Can exercise help allergic symptoms?

If you suffer from allergies, you need to experiment to find what kind of exercise and what intensity works best for you.

It's important to note first that there is such a thing as exercise-induced asthma. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America says this on its website:

"Everyone needs to exercise, even people with asthma! A strong, healthy body is one of your best defenses against disease. But some people with asthma have asthma episodes during exercise. With proper prevention and management, you should be able to exercise free of symptoms."

"Exercise can cause shortness of breath in anyone. Airflow obstruction that occurs because of exercise is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). An older term for this condition is exercise-induced asthma. This term wrongly suggests that exercise causes asthma. As many as 90 percent of all people who have asthma will experience symptoms of EIB during exercise. For teenagers and young adults, this may be the most common cause of asthma symptoms."

You may wish to check out this article, Exercise and Asthma, for a more detailed look at this subject.

When a person is suffering from some of the most common allergy symptoms (and doesn't have asthma), they may not feel particularly motivated to exercise. But there is some evidence that that decision should be looked at carefully.

Obviously, exercise will not get rid of your allergies. But there is some evidence to show that it may improve your symptoms. It does this by improving the blood flow in your body. That, in turn, may reduce the inflammation around your nose, mouth and lungs.

The good news is that the exercise doesn’t have to be intense — you just need to get your blood pumping. The bad news is that overexerting yourself may aggravate your symptoms.

Find the right balance for you.

Hints for Exercising if you have Allergies

Here are some suggestions for exercising when you suffer from allergies:

If you have asthma, you should have your inhaler with you when you exercise.

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This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. This happened to my mother in about 1963 when she had surgery and had a severe reaction to the penicillin. She had hives all over her body and I remember her being very miserable for days. 

  3. I live in Vancouver and teach four fitness classes a week. I am allergic to birch and alder pollen, cats and dogs, grass, and mould. This means that at any time of the year I can suffer the expected symptoms of allergies. I have always felt better after exercise.