Allergic to exercise?

by 5235 · June 14, 2012 at 03:58 PM

I know, I know. I sound like a lazy bum.

But: I'm allergic to exercise. It has a fancy-pants name, called exercise-induced urticaria [ever-reputable wiki link: link text]. I find that some days, just walking across campus is enough for me to break out in hives and wanting to scratch my legs off. However, other days, I'm fine.

I've read that diet influences the allergic reaction, but I've been unable to pinpoint anything specific that's triggering these hives. I don't want to be dependent upon antihistamines either, just to leave my house.

I've broken out in hives in baggy shorts, snug jeans, flowy skirts, the works, so I don't think it's my clothes doing it. I find it happening less now that I'm Paleo, but I had a minor outbreak about two weeks ago, which reminded me of how obnoxious this condition is.

Has anyone ever heard of it? I'd love to learn how to manage it, and maybe learn how to prevent any further eruptions. Any input would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks! :)

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6 Replies

2053 · March 21, 2011 at 02:58 PM

Kaz- Yes, I have a lot of experience with this. My sister and I both had the same problem for years and could never figure out what it was. We would try to go for walks or jogs and we would be itching the skin off our thighs after 5 minutes. A dermatologist told my sister it could be a reaction to adrenalin, even though she tried to tell him she did not get it with other activities that produce adrenalin- just walking, jogging and running.

We chalked it up to an unsolved mystery and decided we were "allergic" to exercise too ;). Then I had a roommate in college who was a big runner. She ran cross country throughout high school and she would try to get me to go running with her.

Well, the first time we went I was itching like mad after 5 minutes. I thought she was going to think I was crazy, but no, she said this always happened at the beginning of the season for cross country. All the girls would go crazy with itching legs until about 4 weeks into the season.

Her coach said that it's caused by the movement that the fat tissue on their thighs created as they ran. It caused the itching sensation on their skin. At the beginning of the season they were not as toned from so much time off and they had a little extra fat moving around. My legs are much more toned and muscular now and I never get the itchy leg syndrome anymore. I know this is sort of an unsatisfying answer scientifically speaking, but it turned out to be true for me. Hope this helps!

3277 · June 14, 2012 at 01:28 PM

You might want to consider Histamine Intolerance.

Basically, your body can process a finite amount of histamines; think of the capacity as a bucket. If you fill your bucket by eating foods that contain lots of histamines, or foods that liberate the histamine already stored in your body, you can provoke classic histamine symptoms (sneezing/wheezing/rash/hives) with a small amount of food, environmental factors (like pollen), or even exercise. It's kind of like "the straw that broke the camel's back". Don't focus on the straw and conclude you have a dire reaction to the straw (e.g. exercise.) If you reduce your dietary consumption of high histamine foods, you might find you don't get such a bad reaction from the environmental factors.

I've done about 50 hours of google research on histamine intolerance in the last 2 weeks. I've been saving notes & clippings in this evernote notebook. I just made it public if you want to browse my raw notes.


When I'm done my research, I'll create a blog post which contains the summarized results of this research.

Let me say that about 2 months after starting paleo, my hay fever symptoms got terrible, and I started breaking out in hives. After careful analysis of my diet, I realized that I was eating a ton of high histamine foods EVERY DAY: e.g. spinach, avocado, V8 tomato juice.

I just started a paleo low histamine diet and my allergy symptoms have vanished, as did my rash.

One thing I've experienced about hives/rash: even after removing the offending foods, it takes 2-3 for the skin to return to normal. One mistake I made 3 years ago when I first had the hives is making a change, not seeing a change in a week, and then concluding the change had no effect.

BTW, some people get help from taking supplements of the enzyme which the body uses to breakdown excess histamine. Search for histame (the product name).

Also, I seemed to be having a histamine reactions to multi-vitamins. Contained in my evernote notebook are references to B6, copper & vitamin C being helpful to squash histamine reactions, but another b-vitamin provoking histamine release. I think it was niacin, but you should double-check.

Please let me know if you find this helpful.

Good luck,


1304 · March 21, 2011 at 10:38 AM

There is a connection between allergy, exercise and wheat. See for example this article, in case you missed it (Dr. K provided the link in a recent question):


I know that you have eliminated gluten from your diet, but is it possible that you have inadvertently been exposed to wheat?

609 · June 14, 2012 at 03:58 PM

I've had cold urticaria since I was 19. One day I didn't have it, the next day I did. I was misdiagnosed with lupus at first and went through a barrage of blood-tests and other diagnostics before an immunologist told me I was allergic to cold temperature.

Some people grow out of it, some don't. It sucks but there's nothing I can do about it that I'm not already doing (living as clean as I can). I get hives when I exercise because of the change in temperature (even if it's 30 degrees - celcius - outside, the cooling effect of the sweat causes hives).

I feel your pain.

50 · June 14, 2012 at 02:11 AM

I have gone through the same kind of allergy!! It is terrible! I mostly get it when I do something that involves a repetitive movement like jogging, running, walking for a long period, etc. I always thought it was just because I wasn't completely in shape like Hannah said but I didn't really pin-pointed it as an allergy until I had children and it started getting triggered when I was breastfeeding. The itch was unbearable and only occurred while I was doing it. I also started to notice at the gym that after any class, everybody was covered in sweat (wet shirts and all) except me. I was as dry as when I went in. So my theory is that the areas in my body that have a higher temperature are the ones that start showing redness, hives or feel very itchy. I probably can't regulate the temperature in my body and without sweating I'm unable to cool it down. I have had some really positive changes over other issues when I started doing Paleo but I haven't tested it for this allergy specifically. Hopefully this might help too! Knowing that it is an allergy definitely helps since you can avoid any scenarios that can trigger it.

8883 · June 14, 2012 at 03:19 PM

I think this is just hypoglycemia, weakening your immune system. It's pretty difficult to stabilize blood sugar, but eating a lot of fruit helps.

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