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