Blog Category: Better Than Before

Yes, allergens can lurk in health clubs, but that shouldn't stop you. Here are five ways to make your workouts allergy-free.
By Jane Wilkens Michael | Posted February 12, 2013
Allergic to the gym?

Strange as it seems in this day and age, not everybody likes to work out. Case in point, my husband, The Lawyer. Though he has actually headed Workout Departments in a law firm, commercial bank and investment bank, none of them required him to break a sweat. Yes, he does walk the dog—and that is more than it seems, since it’s a 120 lb. Rottweiler. But ever since he got stuck in the Lotus position in a yoga session, he simply refuses to attend another one. So Downward Dog—not to mention a Whittle the Middle class—is simply out of the question. He’s also big on coming up with excuses for not exercising. He basically blames his achy knees, a sore back and what he refers to as “negative buoyancy”—I’m assuming the legal term for heavy bones—which he feels makes it practically impossible for him to swim laps.

So when a press release from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) crossed my desk saying that allergy and asthma triggers can ruin workout routines since allergens can be found lurking in health clubs, I naturally didn’t mention it. I could just hear him say, “Jane, I told you I felt worse after I came from the health club—[Note: the one time he actually went to one]—not better!! So much for your theory that we should all go to the gym!”

But reading the release, I hesitate to admit, he might have a point. So I took my concerns to allergist Richard Webber, MD, President of ACAAI. “Not only can new workout routines be difficult for those with asthma,” he said, “but, yes, many allergens can indeed be found lurking in health clubs making this healthy activity bothersome for the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from allergies.”

The good news is that understanding what triggers symptoms, those with allergies and asthma will be able to feel good and remain active. So in order to help The Lawyer and others of his ilk, thankfully, the ACAAI has identified the five most common allergy and asthma exercise ailments, with tips on how to overcome them:

1) Over stepping your boundaries. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness, you might have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). (This condition affects about 10 percent of Americans.) Find relief by using your allergist-prescribed inhaler before you begin your workout routine. Breathing through your nose, rather than your mouth, can also help. Be sure to track your symptoms with the online journal,

2) Think before you eat. As part of your regimen to get in shape, whether you’ve signed up for a dieting meal plan or are opting for foods with fewer calories, be sure to always read nutrition labels before you consume new items. Many products contain hidden food allergens, such as milk, wheat and egg. Energy bars can also be loaded with allergens, including soy and nuts.

3) Choose equipment wisely. While most exercise machines won’t cause you to sneeze or wheeze, rubber mats, medicine balls and some rubber-coated free weights might. Latex can often be found in these items, causing those with latex allergies to develop a rash or hives. Also beware of disinfectant wipes and sprays used to clean gym equipment. They can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can spur an asthma attack or cause skin irritation.

4) Explore the great indoors. If you’re allergic to pollen, grass and other environmental factors, hit the ground running—indoors. Not a fan of treadmills and indoor tracks? Take your allergy medication but avoid running outdoors during mid-day and afternoon hours when pollen counts may be highest. Be sure to change your clothes and shower immediately after finishing your workout to remove any particles that might have fallen onto your clothes and hair.

5) Opt for comfort over fashion. If your workout leaves you itchy and you’ve ruled out other gym culprits, your clothing might be the culprit. Synthetic materials used in everything from shirts to socks could be irritating your skin. ACAAI recommends checking clothing labels and opting for Lycra (spandex) which is higher quality and less likely to irritate your skin. Garments made of natural products can also help. If you have a latex allergy, also be wary of athletic shoes and elastic waistbands.

Of course, if you think you experience symptoms of allergies and asthma, schedule an appointment with a board-certified allergist. Allergists are experts in diagnosing and treating both allergies and asthma. To learn more about what may be triggering your symptoms, and to locate an allergist in your area, visit

Too bad for The Lawyer there are no cures yet for a yoga allergy!

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