Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis Explained

Killer Workouts: Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis

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  • What Is Anaphylaxis?

    What Is Anaphylaxis?

    You probably know someone who is severely allergic to something like peanuts or bee stings. These allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a type of severe allergic reaction that affects your whole body. It happens quickly and can lead to life-threatening complications.

    In rare cases, anaphylaxis is caused by physical activity. A combination of exercise and other contributing factors such as food, weather conditions, or medications often causes exercise-induced anaphylaxis.

    See a visual guide of how anaphylaxis affects the body »

  • Literally Allergic to Exercise

    Literally Allergic to Exercise

    Running and jogging are usually blamed for exercise-induced anaphylaxis. However, it can happen during any physical activity, such as raking leaves or tearing it up on the dance floor.

    Eating particular foods before exercising may bring on an allergic reaction. Peanuts, seafood, and wheat are associated with exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Certain medications like aspirin and anti-inflammatories are sometimes part of the problem.

    Extreme temperatures, humidity, and hormonal changes can also be contributing factors.

  • Symptoms


    Symptoms can come on quite suddenly. They may be mild at first but can accelerate rapidly. Common symptoms include:

    • hives
    • nausea
    • dizziness
    • swelling
    • cramps
    • diarrhea

    You may experience coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing if you don’t stop to rest. This is a life-threatening situation requiring emergency medical attention. Severe cases may progress to shock, loss of consciousness, and respiratory or cardiac arrest. 

  • What to Do

    What to Do

    Stop what you’re doing and rest if you feel early symptoms of exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

    Call 911 immediately if someone near you exhibits signs of anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylactic shock include:

    • pale, clammy skin
    • weak, rapid pulse
    • breathing problems
    • confusion and loss of consciousness

    If the person has emergency medication like an epinephrine auto-injector, you may help administer it. Don’t attempt to give oral medications to someone who can’t breathe. It may be necessary to begin CPR while awaiting emergency responders.

  • Emergency Treatment

    Emergency Treatment

    The emergency medical team will try to help the person breathe and keep their heart beating. They may use adrenaline (epinephrine) to tame the body’s allergic response.

    Emergency responders may also use intravenous antihistamines or cortisone to decrease inflammation in the air passages. Medications called beta-agonists ease troubled breathing.

  • Prevention


    See your doctor for a complete physical if you’ve experienced exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Keep a record of foods you eat before exercising.

    Avoid exercising outdoors during allergy season and in extreme temperatures. Exercise with a partner who is aware of your condition, and who will know what to do in an emergency.

    Pinpointing the factors that contribute to anaphylaxis will help you prevent future attacks.

  • The Auto-Injector

    The Auto-Injector

    Your doctor will probably prescribe an auto-injector (EpiPen®) if you have a serious allergy. It injects just the right amount of epinephrine into your system.

    Seconds count, so make sure you understand how and when to use it. Tell those closest to you that you carry an auto-injector and teach them how to use it.

    It’s important that you carry the auto-injector with you at all times. Replace your medication before it expires.

  • Long-Term Outlook

    Long-Term Outlook

    The good news is that anaphylaxis is usually very treatable if you act quickly. If you have a known allergy, carry with you the emergency injectable medication your doctor prescribed, especially when you exercise.

    The long-term outlook is very favorable if you try to avoid your known triggers. However, this is a serious allergy and you should treat it as such. Complications can include respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, shock, and loss of consciousness. 

  • A Few More Precautions

    A Few More Precautions

    Consider wearing a medical alert tag. Alert your family and friends to your condition and teach them what to do in an emergency. Read all labels carefully if you have a food allergy.

    Stop and rest at the first sign of anaphylaxis. Keep your medications and a cell phone on you when exercising.

    Exercise is good for you. As long as you take the proper precautions and listen to your body’s signals, you should be able to continue exercising.

Thank you!

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