First, Let's Define Allergies
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:
- Indoor and Outdoor or Airborne Allergies: pollen from trees, flowers, shrubs, or grass; spores from mould; dust; animal dander (particularly dogs and cats);
- Skin Allergies: Skin allergies include skin inflammation, eczema, hives, chronic hives and contact allergies. Plants like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are the most common skin allergy triggers. But skin contact with cockroaches and dust mites, certain foods or latex may also cause skin allergy symptoms.
- Food Allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish are the top threee; eight foods cause most food allergy reactions: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish;
- Drug Allergies: Up to 10% of people report that penicillin is the most common trigger. Up to 20% of all hospital patients will have a reaction to some kind of drug. 1
- Insect Allergies: Bee and wasp stings and poisonous ant bites are the most common. Cockroaches and dust mites may also cause nasal or skin allergy symptoms. Insect sting allergies affect 5% of the population.
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.'" 2
Can exercise help allergic symptoms?
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:
- Always warm-up first for approximately ten minutes. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology indicates that warm-ups do help to reduce allergic symptoms.
Consider using a decongestant, antihistamine, saline spray, or neti pot prior to your workout. Experiment until you find what works best for you; you want to be able to nose breath if possible because it warms and filters air and prevents a sore throat. It will also remove some allergens and irritants before entering your lungs or bronchial passageways. (Note: If you have asthma, you may need to use an inhaler. At the very least, you need to have it with you.)
Focus on proper breathing — before, during, and after exercise.
You need to perform some cardiovascular workouts — this will strengthen your heart and lungs and get the blood pumping. (Remember that an extreme cardio routine can aggravate asthma, and even make it difficult to breathe if you suffer from allergic rhinitis.) Stop-and-go forms of exercise are preferred.
Resistance training is easier for you because you are not having to breathe heavily.
If possible, take a steamy shower (followed by cooler water) after a workout. This shift in temperature may loosen more mucus in the sinuses and bronchial tract.
This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:
- Exercise and Arthritis
- Exercise and Asthma
- Exercise and Balance
- Exercise and Cancer
- Exercise and Chronic Pain
- Exercise and Circulation
- Exercise and COPD
- Exercise and Dementia
- Exercise and Diabetes
- Exercise and Heart Disease
- Exercise and Hypertension
- Exercise and Lifestyle and Older Adults: Recent Research
- Exercise and Mood
- Exercise and Osteoporosis
- Exercise and Our Brain
- Exercise and Pain vs. Burn: Will it ever stop hurting?
- Exercise and Parkinson's
- Exercise and Sleep
- Exercise and Stroke
- Exercise and Viruses: Exercise Immunology
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.
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. ↩︎
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. ↩︎