Ask Dr. Nandi: Are you allergic to exercise?

Posted at 5:08 PM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 17:08:45-04

Can you be allergic to exercise? It seems a small percentage of the population actually is.

This may come as a surprise to many but roughly 11 percent of the population has a skin disorder called cholinergic urticarial or physical urticarial. It’s an immune system disorder triggered by heat, sweat and exercise.

Itchy red hives appear on the skin and sometimes the person may spike a fever or have difficulty breathing. Symptoms can begin within 30 minutes of exercising and typically go away shortly after the person cools off. In very rare cases a serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can happen which can be deadly.

Exercise is very important to our health so they don’t get a free pass on this. Patients with cholinergic urticarial should use the trial and error method to figure out what exercise they can safely do. They also need to learn how to control their symptoms. So here are my prescriptions:

Partha’s RX
1. See a board-certified allergist
Treatments are available like non-drowsy antihistamine.

2. Exercise in a cool gym
You won’t heat up as quickly compared to the warmer weather outside.

3. Once a Reaction Starts, Stop exercising
Cool down by standing in front of an air conditioner or using cold compresses.

4. Carry an Epipen
And always exercise with someone who knows how to use it.

People with asthma, hay fever and allergies to medications are more likely to develop cholinergic urticarial. 

Right now the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is conducting a study to learn more about it.  So if you or a family member have this skin disorder and are interested in being a participant, go to for details.