No, exercise does not cause allergies. On this most experts are agreed, and practical observation, as well as clinical studies, show that athletes do not have more or fewer allergies than nonathletes.
The bad news is when the allergies you do have interfere with your workouts.
Many common allergies, such as hay fever, asthma and contact dermatitis can be minimized by moderate amounts of exercise, which increase immune efficiency, but as many elite athletes are aware too much training actually impairs the immune system, exacerbating the effects of these bothersome allergies.
Untreated allergies among athletic people are much more irritating than controlled ones, and disrupt workout schedules. While it is rarely necessary for people to avoid sports due to allergies, performance is often affected, especially for high-performance athletes.
Corticosteriods are sometimes recommended in certain situations for asthma and hay fever patients, and do not disqualify athletes from competition. Check carefully with your physician before using any steroid. When training note the times of day pollens seem to less bothersome, usually mornings are the worst. Often runners and cyclists can schedule alternate routes with lower levels of irritants.
If you enjoy a number of sports, the Journal of Physician and Sports Medicine suggests that knowledge of allergic exposure risks can be used to substitute sports activities at different times of the year, or exercise inside as often as possible. Dr. Malcolm N. Blumenthal recommends athletes consult with their physicians, and those with hay fever try antihistamines, decongestants, or inhaled anti-inflammatories before working out. For asthma sufferers he suggests an inhaled beta2 agonist before exposure or after onset of symptoms.
Athletes with pronounced allergies may from time to time suffer from anaphylaxis, a condition resulting in swelling, hives and sometimes even a drop in blood pressure. While neither exercise alone nor an allergic reaction alone will cause anaphylaxis, some scientific evidence suggests a combination of the two might. Keep in mind that strenuous exercise itself may produce symptoms similar to allergic reactions, and while classic symptoms of allergies may be relatively unobtrusive the athlete may suffer more from increased fatigue, headaches and reductions in endurance and concentration.
Bear in mind that determining the exact levels at which allergies and exercise affect each other is an inexact science. The majority of asthmatics will experience exercise-induced asthma from heavy-duty exercise, but some may feel negative effects only during pollen season. Likewise victims of hay fever may suffer more from simple exposure to cold.
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