Perhaps nothing can be more vexing than uncontrollable itching while exercising. The burning and swelling add to your discomfort and ruin the quality of your workout. Some cases of itchy legs are caused by lack of fitness. Your body has not adapted to exercise to better direct blood flow. It can also indicate an allergic reaction or a more serious health condition, depending upon your symptoms. If your itchiness is accompanied by shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately.
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Physiology of Itching
Your symptoms are caused by the body going into an inflammatory response directed by the immune system. Your body releases histamine, which in turn causes the redness and swelling you experience. Blood vessels dilate, which results in increased circulation. Hives develop with areas of redness. Several triggers can exist, including perspiration, heat or emotional stress. Scratching your itchy legs can aggravate the condition and increase your discomfort.
There are several biological causes for your itchiness. One condition is cholinergic urticaria, a disorder of the immune system. In this case, your body is responding inappropriately and becoming hypersensitive to some trigger. Your skin condition may also be indicative of a rare allergy called exercise-induced anaphylaxis. This disorder is accompanied by other symptoms, including wheezing, nausea and a choking sensation. Your itchiness may also be a reaction to some type of airborne allergen such as pollen.
In order to treat your itchy legs, you should begin by identifying any possible triggers. You may find it helpful to keep a journal. You can note things such as the weather conditions, location for identifying possible allergens and intensity of the workout when walking or running. This way, you can identify patterns so you can help prevent a re-occurrence of your condition.
If intense workouts trigger an attack, you may want to consider changing your workout clothes. Wearing loose-fitting clothing may keep you more comfortable and control perspiration. You may also want to take preventive measures such as taking an antihistamine a half hour before you head outside to walk or run. This medication can control the body's inflammatory response to prevent the redness and itching. If you have exercise-induced anaphylaxis, you may want to avoid exercising four to six hours after eating, recommends a 2001 study by the University of Kentucky School of Medicine. You may also want to refrain from taking any nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, which have been linked with exercise-induced anaphylaxis.
- Linus Pauling Institute: Inflammation
- Cigna: Urticaria, Cholinergic
- DermNet NZ: Cholinergic Urticaria
- "Running Times" Magazine; Allergic to Running; Courtney Roush; January 2006
- "American Family Physician"; Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis and Urticaria; R. Hosey, et al.; October 2001