Thursday, March 19, 2015

Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis

You know how some people say they're allergic to exercise? The majority of the time they probably are just joking and looking for an excuse to not workout, but there's actually some truth to that statement for others, like me. While I'm not truly allergic to exercising in and of itself, I have had an allergic reaction while running several times.

Several years ago while I was in Oregon on a trip, my throat and mouth became super itchy after eating a chocolate peanut butter dessert. Although it was very uncomfortable, I didn't think anything of it since my breathing wasn't affected. A few days later though, a bunch of sores developed in my mouth making it too painful to eat. Long story short, I immediately got a blood test to determine exactly what I was allergic to. I read over the ingredients from that chocolate peanut butter dessert multiple times, but was confused because I had eaten all of those foods before without any problems. When my blood test results came back, I was surprised to see how many different foods I was actually allergic to, especially the ones I was currently eating without any adverse reactions. Supposedly, I'm allergic to all nuts (except pistachios, Brazil nuts, and cashews), soy, corn, and wheat. I found it interesting that I was allergic to almost all of the vegan items that I was tested for, yet any potential allergies to animal-derived foods (dairy, eggs, shellfish) came back negative. Perhaps it's just a huge coincidence and my allergist didn't seem as amused by my "finding" as me, so I suppose it's unrelated. My allergist agreed that since I haven't noticed any symptoms from eating corn, wheat, soy, or most nuts, that I can continue to eat these foods. But, I should cut out peanuts from my diet since the peanut butter was most likely the culprit in my initial allergic reaction. Even though my breathing wasn't impaired, I still carry around an Epi-pen since each subsequent allergic reaction can be completely different than the previous one, and there is still the potential I can go into anaphylactic shock even though it's never happened before.

Anyway, back to exercising. I experienced my first exercise induced allergic reaction about two years ago, but I didn't attribute it to exercising at the time. I just figured I ate something that didn't agree with my body and I was having an allergic reaction solely because of that. However, the same thing happened several months later, and it was then that I started to do some research. Over a year later I had another allergic reaction while running, but it was more severe. I was running outside by myself and I still had half a mile left to run when I noticed my hands starting to swell, turn bright red, and become really itchy, my throat was also itchy. I ran the remaining distance as quickly as I could and as soon as I walked through the front door I was already barking orders at Lauren to grab some Benadryl and my Epi-pen (just in case). Luckily the Benadryl worked and I didn't need to use my Epi-pen. By just looking at my face now, Lauren can easily tell when I'm having an allergic reaction. She recognizes my "dog face" that according to her, resembles a dog's snout, but bright red and covered in hives.

That last experience happened in August, but I've been carrying Benadryl with me to the gym, just in case. Luckily I do because two weeks ago it happened again. I was doing a track (speed) workout and towards the end of the run, I could feel my hands start to balloon up and become itchy. Of course I felt like I needed to finish my entire run, then I rushed to my locker and took a Benadryl. The antihistamine kicked in within 15 minutes, and besides feeling lethargic, I felt much better. But two days ago, it happened again while I was doing another speed workout. This time was a little worse than before. Like all previous reactions, I had that same horrible feeling in my hands, but this time my lips and mouth started to become numb. Again I took Benadryl, but it took longer for these symptoms to subside.

These last two "attacks" have happened so close to one another, and within just two weeks the symptoms were even worse. I did additional research about EIA and learned that it's pretty hard to identify the cause for certain. EIA can be due to hormonal changes, food, temperature/humidity/seasonal changes, or medications. After analyzing my habits and environment, I believe that for me, EIA occurs as a result of a specific food I eat prior to exercising. This food can normally be eaten without any problems; it's only an issue if my body is stressed (running) after consuming that particular food. Because of this, it's difficult to pinpoint the co-factor. I have absolutely no idea what food is causing this, but I also know that the last two times this has happened, it has been during a speed workout where I'm running significantly faster than I typically would. So, the intensity of exercise could also be a factor for me.

This all being said, for now I'm going to stop doing speed workouts in hopes that I don't have another allergic reaction. From previous situations, I already know that I personally have to stop eating three hours prior to running. Thankfully I haven't had to resort to using my Epi-pen before, but again, each allergic reaction is different and I always need to be prepared.

While this post was partially meant to create a greater awareness to a rather uncommon condition, I chose to share this story because I want to tell the whole story, the entire journey. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy running (usually), and so I want to be transparent and not only share the highs (races, PRs), but also the lows and the struggles.