Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I fainted.
For the most part, I had lived a sedentary lifestyle. But as the New Year ushered in, I thought to myself, this has to change. I wanted to feel physically fitter and have more stamina. And so I resolved to start an exercise routine, running for about 20-30 minutes two to three times a week. A few years back, I also ran for exercise, but I was never consistent and didn’t do it for very long.
I started running on the final day of the previous year. All went smoothly, and as expected my legs hurt for a couple of days after that.
Yesterday, I felt fit enough to run again and so I went out late afternoon in my polyester clothes and running shoes, feeling like an actual fitness buff. I had little to eat for lunch that day, so I decided to first eat before running. This was what I had:
After eating, I rested then had a light walk, sightseeing for about 30 minutes. By then, nighttime had fallen. Then I decided to run.
First, I did some stretching to warm up. Then I jogged, then did some brisk walking when I felt out of breath, then jogged again, ran, repeat. This went on for about 20 minutes.
I then started walking back home but planned to first pick up a bottle of water to drink on my way. Then I started feeling all tingly and itchy all over my arms. I looked down on my arms and saw that there were tiny rashes all over. It didn’t alarm me because I’ve often had rashes brought on by all sorts of things—cold, pressure, heat, and stress have all wreaked havoc on my skin at some point. The rashes often went away soon enough without need for medication.
I also started feeling rashes form all over my legs. Still, it didn’t bother me much. Aside from the itchiness, I was feeling totally fine. I even took a picture of my arm rash (seen below) to later show my boyfriend and jokingly say, “Hey, I’m actually allergic to exercise.”
Little did I know that I was actually ACTUALLY allergic to exercise.
Soon after I took that picture, my vision started to blur and I felt a bit dizzy. By then, I had given up on the idea of picking up water on the way and decided to head straight home. I was thinking, I only need to get to my bed, then I’ll for sure feel better after a bit of rest.
By the time I had to cross the final street before home, my vision had been reduced to more black than light. I could only see the bright flashes of light from the oncoming cars. My dizziness also worsened. Somehow I managed to cross the street and find myself on my way to the elevator going to the unit where I live.
I approached the elevator door as it almost closed. By then, I could barely see; I could only make out that the elevator was full of people. I managed to put my hand between the closing doors, entered the elevator, squeezed myself between two people who were talking to each other, and pressed the elevator button of my floor (more from memory than from vision). I remember panicking a bit, thinking how on earth I could get off on my floor when I could barely see.
That’s the last thing I remember before passing out.
When I gained consciousness, I couldn’t move nor open my eyes. I simply saw blackness and it felt like death. I heard people all around me, talking in frantic voices. I was laying on the floor and someone was cradling my head on their lap. Someone was saying that I felt cold to the touch, that I was so pale, that I had rashes all over. Someone was putting some sort of mentholated substance under my nose. Someone was ordering someone else to call the guard and bring a stretcher. Someone was telling me to breathe, to keep breathing. I did.
I remember at some point managing to weakly say my unit number that they could locate my family. I was able to open my eyes briefly and I still saw mostly black, but I could make out silhouettes of people gathered around me. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It was like something I only saw in the movies. It felt like I was in a dream. I wished hard that it was just a dream. I remember trying to convince myself, Any moment now, I’ll wake up from this nightmare.
Then I felt someone lift me up, put me on a wheelchair, and push the wheelchair forward. After a few moments, I heard the shocked voice of my brother-in-law asking what had happened. I heard another voice saying that I collapsed on the 18th floor. I still couldn’t move nor open my eyes but I heard everything. I felt some more clamoring, then some more pushing of the wheelchair, then my sister lifting me up and putting me on the bed.
It felt good to lay down flat. My sister changed me into dry clothes. I was fed fluids and sugary things. I said I wasn’t hungry, that it wasn’t lack of sugar that led to this. I managed to say something about an allergic reaction and pointed to where I kept my antihistamine. The rashes on my arms had subsided but they were still bad all over my legs. My sister still kept pushing an Oreo cookie in my hand and telling me to eat because it would help, and at that point I remembered that scene in Harry Potter when Lupin urged Harry to eat the chocolate after the dementor attack led him to faint. See, even in injury I remained a Potterhead. JK Rowling, notice me please. 😀
Anyway, my sister got my antihistamine and helped me take it. As I took the tablet, I felt chips of hard material in my mouth which I had to spit out. I then realized it was tiny bits of my teeth. I had chipped my front tooth. What a nightmare. My sister also pointed out that my lip had a wound and was bleeding. Goodness gracious.
Then I was allowed to rest. My vision started to come back to focus. I was so relieved because at some point I was hysterically thinking I was going blind for good.
After some time, I reached over to my phone and started googling. I typed in “rashes and fainting after running”.
The search results enlightened me.
Exercise-induced anaphylaxis is a fairly rare condition which can cause hives, fainting, vomiting and difficulty breathing during a workout, and the symptoms can last up to four hours after it. In some cases, it can be triggered by certain foods eaten before exercise, like peanuts, shellfish, eggs or even, in two reported cases, celery. But this isn’t just your average food allergy, an expert explains.
“These are people who will not have this reaction unless they exercise right after eating this food,” says Dr. Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, an allergist in private practice in Montgomery Village, Md., and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Eating shellfish and sitting there? Nothing. But eating shellfish and exercising? For these people, it’s bad news.”
As you exercise and your heart rate speeds up, your blood starts whizzing through organs much faster, and therefore more frequently, than it normally does. With every trip your blood takes to your stomach, it’s picking up more, say, celery bits. For those with exercise-induced anaphylaxis, the normal amount of celery antigens picked up by the blood isn’t enough to bother them. But while exercising, the extra celery bits their blood is picking up causes an allergic reaction.
Running and jogging are the most likely to trigger an attack, but other strenuous activities like dancing, volleyball, skiing and even yard work can also cause a reaction. ~ Allergic to exercise? by Melissa Dahl, NBC News
At the moment, I’m still doing a bit more research about this and about a related, less severe condition called “cholinergic urticaria”:
Others suffer from the less serious exercise allergy cholinergic urticaria, a common type of heat rash, which differs from anaphylaxis in that it starts and ends with the skin reaction – no nausea or difficulty breathing for these folks. Ten to 20 percent of the population will experience some form of it during their lives. Besides exercise, sun exposure, spicy foods or even getting too emotionally worked up can cause an itch attack.
The condition can strike spontaneously, so even if you’ve been exercising all your life with nary a rash, you can unexpectedly break out in hives. Even some marathon runners have suddenly come down with a bad case of the itches after jogging, explains Eghrari-Sabet. Women are most susceptible to the condition, and the average age for its first appearance is 16. ~ Allergic to exercise? by Melissa Dahl, NBC News
I’m not yet sure what I have. I don’t have any food allergies, and I had done strenuous physical activities before without any adverse effects on me. One whole summer in my teen years, I even took a dance class three times a week. I had never fainted then, nor at any other instance. So this food-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis thing makes a lot of sense in explaining what had happened to me.
Nonetheless, I am astounded to learn that these conditions exist. My initial reaction was somewhere along the lines of, “What in the actual f***??” All someone needed to do to hospitalize me was treat me to a meal then play tag with me.
But once I calmed down a bit more, I figured it isn’t so bad. If I do have such condition, I only need to figure out which of what I ate before running was the real culprit. I have a huge hunch that it was the chicken. I hate you, chicken.
As for the running, yes I still intend to continue the routine. But I will for sure avoid eating for a couple of hours prior to running.
Mind your health this 2020, everyone! Keep safe.
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P.S. A huge thank you to the people with me in the elevator who helped me. I couldn’t recall any of your faces but I am forever grateful for your kindness.