Every year after the OKC Memorial Marathon I see photos of friends donning their medals, posting adorable photos of their kids and families cheering them on with signs at the finish line and beaming with pride and sweat and think “I’m going to sign up to do that next year!” That thought is immediately followed with another thought: “No, you nimrod. You actually CAN’T do that. Don’t you remember what happened in 2015??”
A seemingly harmless bike ride through my neighborhood in September of 2015 nearly (at the risk of sounding highly dramatic) cost me my life.
You see, I have a very rare condition called Exercised Induced Anaphylaxis – this is when anaphylaxis occurs after physical activity. Couple that with being severely allergic to every tree, pollen, grass, weed & basically anything else that grows in Oklahoma, and I’m pretty much a walking disaster.
My first experience with this was my junior year of high school. It was in September when the ragweed pollen is extremely high. (I was completely unaware at the time that I was allergic to anything.) I had just come in from outdoors and was anxiously practicing a dance I really wasn’t prepared to perform at a pep rally in a few minutes. My eyes started itching like crazy, and I was worried the friend’s eyeliner I had just borrowed had somehow instantly given me pink eye.
A few minutes later my eyes were so itchy I couldn’t see, and my best friend and coach both kindly said “UM. You need to go to the doctor. Like NOW.” My mom rushed me to the ER down the road and by the time we got there I could hardly breathe, my throat was swollen almost shut, and I had caught a glimpse of myself in the side view mirror and was terrified my face would never go back to normal. I looked like Will Smith when he ate the shellfish in the movie Hitch.
We visited an allergist the following week and discovered that I’m allergic to approximately 97 of the 102 items they test you for. Along with being allergic to all these things, the doctor said I have what is known as Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis.
The doctor told me that I am literally allergic to exercise.
When I exert myself physically, especially outdoors where I’m breathing in all of the things I’m allergic to, I break out into full-on anaphylaxis.
Fast forward nine years. I knew I’d never be a runner, but I thought surely I could handle riding a bike. I quickly found out in September of 2015 that I was very wrong. Bored one evening, I decided to go for a ride. As I was walking back into my house afterward, I started sneezing. I could feel a sensation of heat radiating throughout my body, and I knew exactly what was happening.
I jumped in the shower to wash off really quickly and then started digging through the cabinets for some Benadryl. In a matter of minutes, I was covered head to toe in hives and my entire body was as red as Clifford the dog. I could feel my throat swelling, so much so that I could barely swallow the tiny Benadryl.
Being home alone while this was taking place was a bit scary, but what made me even more anxious, thus exacerbating the anaphylaxis, was not being able to get ahold of anyone close by. My husband was with a client so he wasn’t answering his phone, my mom was playing tennis, and my dad’s phone was on silent. I could hear the worry in my husband’s voice when he finally saw the missed calls, as he said he could hardly hear what I was saying through my swollen throat.
Needless to say, I now keep Benadryl as well as an epi-pen in my car at all times, and I only do simple at home workouts that don’t really even make me break a sweat. Allergies are super common, especially in Oklahoma, but you definitely get some strange looks when you tell someone you’re allergic to exercise!