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Olympic athletes and other marathon runners could benefit from allergy testing to make sure they have the right medications before they run. That was one conclusion of a study from Northumbria University led by Dr. Paula Robson-Ansley. Researchers concluded that out of almost 40,000 runners in the 2011 London Marathon, one-third would experience allergy symptoms after the run.
Many marathon runners have allergy-like symptoms a few days after a race. The runny nose and watery eyes are often attributed to a case of the sniffles at a time when the immune system was stressed by the effort put into the race. The Northumbria team used a health questionnaire along with blood tests to determine whether how many runners were suffering from allergies following the race.
The blood tests measured the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Higher IgE levels indicate that allergies are present. During an allergy attack, the immune system reacts to an allergen such as pollen as though it was harmful to the body. IgE antibodies and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream to fight off the invading allergen particles. This overreaction by the immune system also triggers typical allergy symptoms including runny nose, and itchy or watery eyes. Other symptoms can include inflammation in the airways that can cause difficulty breathing.
Marathon runners are exposed to a variety of pollens depending on the location and timing of the race. For example, the London Marathon typically takes place in April when pollen levels from several trees are high. Runners who are allergic to those pollens may experience more severe allergy symptoms following the race.
This study has special significance for Olympic athletes planning to compete at the 2012 games in London. "The Olympics are taking place during the peak grass-pollen period," Robson-Ansley said, "so, if almost three out of ten people are potentially allergic to this common aeroallergen, it is a priority to have Olympic athletes tested before the games so an appropriate treatment regime can be put in place."