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Allergies and sports

In spring everyone but the endurance athlete is happy. Finally, the season of outdoor training has started again but it is also prime time for allergies. There is a high pollen count in the air and as endurance athletes inhale a significantly greater amount of air during exercise they are exposed to greater amounts of pollen. The neck feels tight, mucus membranes swell and the lungs contract. As a result breathing becomes more difficult and the finish line seems to be at an ever greater distance. Nasal congestion and asthma in particular are problematic for endurance athletes.

Sport acts as an intensifying factor for allergies

Allergies are an immune response from the body to an otherwise harmless item. Allergy symptoms occur as a result of the body’s reaction to pollen or specific foods. The usual reaction leads to symptoms such as breathing difficulties, mucus membrane swelling and eczema.

Training can lead to an intensification of these symptoms or a reduction of the response threshold. The amount of an allergen required to triggers an allergy is described as a response threshold. An allergen is a specific part of pollen or food which triggers an overreaction of the immune system and thus leads to an allergy. In the worst-case scenarios allergies can cause allergic shocks. In the case of an allergic shock, blood pressure drops resulting in unconsciousness.

Allergies do not have to last for a lifetime. Some allergies that occur at a young age may slow down over time and do not have to play a significant role in adulthood. For example, food allergies can disappear by simply not eating the allergy-causing food and these foods can be consumed without problems later in life. However, the acquired tolerance of a food can actually be lost through strenuous exercise and symptoms can occur again.

Increased muscle activity during training leads to an elevated body temperature and thus to an increase in blood circulation which influences the allergens in the intestine.

Furthermore, during exercise the pH in the body is lowered by the increased release of fatty acids and a release of histamine is triggered. Histamine is one of the substances that is emitted in an allergic reaction and triggers the typical allergy symptoms.

The influence of sports on a food allergy has a so-called dose-response character. This means the higher the intake of possibly allergy-inducing foods, the greater the effort in training the stronger the allergic response. Training influences the tolerability of food which is consumed up to four hours before and one hour after the workout. Various physical mechanisms are considered to be the cause for this.

Allergies are a significant problem for athletes

Training can become a major health problem when an allergic shock occurs. Therefore, it is important to know and to be aware of one’s allergy and adjust the training or diet accordingly.

Of course, the most effective way is to avoid the allergen which causes the allergy. But for endurance athletes with pollen allergies this is simply not an option. However, it is possible to monitor pollen levels in the air online. That way you can be aware of when your allergies might flare up. With proper treatment seasonal allergies should not prevent you from running outside.

Diet is an important part of an athlete’s physical fitness, preparation and recovery. It is important to establish a food and drink strategy that meets the athlete’s dietary requirements, enhances performance and does not include the identified food allergens. 

As an allergy sufferer, always take your emergency medication with you during your training sessions in order to be able to counteract an allergic overreaction at an early stage.

Find out if you have food allergies or intolerances with cerascreen's Food Reaction Test.

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