Can Exercise Give You Hives?


Hives are itchy pink blotches that develop on your skin. They come up quickly, are extremely itchy, then disappear without a trace in minutes to hours. Many things trigger hives including foods, medicines, and sometimes exercise.

Exercise-induced hives (or urticaria) develop when your skin warms during exercise. Once your skin reaches a certain temperature, itchy welts suddenly bloom. The hives favor your stomach, back, or chest but can occur anywhere. One thing is for certain: They always intensify into a maddening itch.

Eating cheese, seafood, celery, or wheat within a few hours of starting exercise can trigger an outbreak. People who have exercise-induced hives also sometimes react when they take medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen before exercising.

In some people, exercise-induced hives occur when they exercise in cold weather. This often happens when they jog in cold weather, ski, or swim in the ocean (especially here in California where the water is always chilly).

If you’re exercising and you develop an itchy red rash, then stop exercising. If the hives don’t go away within 15 minutes, then stop your workout. Avoid eating cheese, celery, seafood, or wheat  for 4 hours before your workout. Similarly, avoid aspirin or ibuprophen for 4 to 6 hours before exercising. Taking antihistamines such as Benedryl or Zyrtec an hour before exercising may help block an outbreak. Antihistamines also hasten the resolution if taken immediately when the rash occurs.

In rare cases, exercise-induced hives cause swelling of the throat, difficultly breathing, and even death. If you develop swelling of your mouth or throat, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, then seek immediate medical help. Patients with high-risk allergic reactions should carry an epi-pen at all times and should never exercise alone.

Photo: Ernst Moeksis

15 thoughts on “Can Exercise Give You Hives?”

  1. I thought it was just because I was out of shape and my mind was looking for ways to make me stop exercising. Thanks for this post.

  2. Great post! I suffer from chronic urticaria (have had it for almost 5 years) and exercise definitely makes it worse (including anaphylaxsis). I had to stop kickboxing and now can only do moderate walking and weight training. And yes, always have 2 epi pens with me. Thanks for educating people about this scary occurrence.

  3. I have red hair and fair skin, and the mildest of exercise will turn my skin bright pink. With sustained exercise I turn red, and my skin itches, but I’ve never developed hives. When I was pre-teen, and a teenager, I had to reassure my athletic coaches every year that I wasn’t in danger because I turned so red with exercise.

  4. I love this blog! i get hives on my legs when i run in the fall/winter. I have always joked that i’m allergic to exercise… A doctor told me my body starts “reacting allergically” when my hot body temp is battling with cold skin. it itches like crazy but stops almost instantly once i get inside to a warm temp. He said to try and walk for a few blocks and slowly warm up my body temp before an all out run, i am going to try that when the weather cools…

  5. I get the itchy hives when I exercise in cold weather. My legs itch like crazy. I have found that Benadryl cream applied before exercising helps some. Great article 🙂

  6. I had a crazy experience with hives when i was pregnant with my second child. I was at work one night as an labor and delivery nurse and started to develop hives whenever the ultrasonic gel hit my bare skin. My OB came in early that morning to make rounds on his patients, and I reported it to him. His comment: “that’s impossible. No one reacts to the gel, it’s hypoallergenic.” I took a bottle of gel, squeezed a small amount onto my arm and wiped it off. 2 minutes later: hives. Funny thing is that it was only that ONE night. Never happened again, during the pregnancy or any other time.

  7. Wow…..I figured it was cuz my chunky parts were chaffing from flapping around. I def like eating dairy products, especially before I workout. I read somewhere that consuming dairy will help you lose weight, so I’ll protein up with some cheese before I workout with a glass of milk of course. then I wake up around 2am to drink some milk to supply my body protein while my muscles develop while I sleep. Then breakfast is a yogurt and cottage cheese blend that I invented which is really good once you get over the fact that you’re drinking yogurt and cheese.

  8. Great article! I use ‘Lacto calamine’ to reduce the itchiness associated with Hives.

  9. Thank you for this information! I’ve had problems off and on for years with any kind of cold weather activity making my skin feel hot and itchy. I’ve tried all sorts of soaps and detergents thinking that it must be the source of the problem. Even thick creams did not keep the itch away. Glad there is something else to try.

  10. Brigitte S. says:

    Wow! I’ve always suffered from itchy hives during exercise–usually while running/jogging. Never occurs while doing yoga or riding a bike. If I start out running immediately, without walking for at least a mile, I develop the itchy red bumps all over my stomach and thigh. Trying to run while clawing at one’s skin is never easy.:) Plus, people would always ask why I was itching so much.

    Like Kirsten said above, a proper warm-up usually keeps my symptoms at bay.

  11. ken frank says:

    I just had this happen after running a mile on the treadmill. It was the first time and I ate a sub from subway lots of cheese,mayo. The hives came on so fast first my back and then on my privites, balls included. One hive in paticular was as large and covered my hole penis. THANKS FOR THE GREAT INFORMATION……I thought it was a std

  12. Hi Dr Benabio,
    Thanks for the above, It all started with Jane Fonda. She started an industry with a simple video tape that included a 30 minute beginners program followed by a 60 minute full workout. For Jane it formed the nucleus of an empire that included books, audio recordings and fitness salons that are still in existence today. More importantly, capitalizing on Jane’s success, her workout tapes were followed quickly by everybody with a cut chiseled physique or a machine to help you work off those extra pounds and bring out those abs which quite unbelievably is bigger today than it was yesterday but not as big as it will be tomorrow.
    Good Job!

  13. Did it work? I am stuggeling terribly with the hives while trying to run.

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