For years, a weird phenomenon has happened occasionally after I exercise. I’ll have a violent reaction that feels like I’m getting a very bad head cold. I can’t stop sneezing, my sinuses block, my nose runs (both in the obvious direction and down my throat) and I struggle to breathe. The sneezing and the runny nose are so bad that I cant risk being out of arm’s reach of the nearest box of tissues. It usually comes on within a couple of hours of stopping exercise, lasts for a few hours, and then goes again just as suddenly.
Until recently, it was something of a mystery, and I was never sure if it was a virus that was triggered to become active by stressing my body with exercise or an allergic reaction. Well, I still don’t know for certain, but I’m leaning towards allergic reaction.
It’s called exercise induced rhinitis, and it’s part of a family of exercise induced conditions that also includes exercise induced asthma and exercise induced anaphylaxis. There hasn’t been much research into them, and scientists aren’t sure whether they’re allergy related or not – some people who get them have existing allergies, while others don’t. Some people have discovered strategies to limit the effects, while most just have to wait for the symptoms to subside.
Thursday afternoon, I finished my workout as usual, showered and got myself a post-workout snack, and I noticed a reaction starting to come on. Fortunately, I’d written most of the daily update post for that day before it started, so all I had to do was add a couple of sentences and the weather image, and click Publish. Otherwise, Thursday’s daily update, as well as yesterday’s, may have been missing.
It was the worst exercise induced reaction I’ve ever had, and I spent most of yesterday lying down and feeling sorry for myself. I felt as if I had flu. My whole body ached, my head and throat hurt, my sinuses were totally blocked and – the clue to what had caused it – I still had an itchy nose and mouth. I took enough antihistamines, anti-inflammatories and decongestants to knock out a horse!
The thing is, reactions like that have always been rare, and I’ve never had one that has left me feeling ill the following day. Recently, they’re happening more often, they’re more severe when they do happen, and my usual strategy of having a soya protein shake every day is not helping. (To be honest, I’m not sure why it does usually help. I may need to do some research into that.)
So, what’s changed?
Obviously, I’ve never been this iron and B12 deficient before. I don’t have any hard evidence for this, but I suspect exercise is depleting both my iron and B12 levels (especially when I use a higher resistance and work my muscles harder, as I did on Thursday) and making me more vulnerable to whatever problems exercise usually causes. I have some evidence to support this theory because symptoms of B12 deficiency that have mostly cleared up tend to come back when I’m exercising hard.
It leaves me wondering what to do. I hope my allergies will improve as my iron and B12 deficiencies reduce – they seem to have got worse as the deficiencies have developed – but for the moment I’m limited by how much iron my body will absorb. It doesn’t matter how much B12 I get into me if there isn’t enough iron for it to work with. I don’t want to spend another day feeling like crap, but I also don’t want to give up exercise. When it goes well, it makes me feel good.
So, for now, I think I’ll have to limit myself. Most of my cross training sessions will be done on resistance ‘3’ with only short – and occasional – spells on ‘4’ and ‘5’ and I hope that will be enough to stop the reactions. I don’t want to risk losing muscle, and ‘use it or lose it’ is a very real thing where muscle is concerned.
I’m hoping the combination of B12, iron and vitamin D will reduce my allergies to the point where they rarely bother me at all, but that may be asking too much.