As almost 40,000 runners get set to take part in this year's London Marathon, a new study has found that one in three will suffer from allergies after the event.
Post-marathon sniffles are a common complaint among runners, but they are often put down to infections taking advantage of a depleted immune system caused by the effort involved.
Now, however, researchers at Northumbria University have shown how far symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny nose and congestion can be attributed to allergic reactions.
A team led by Dr Paula Robson-Ansley recruited 150 runners doing last year's London Marathon and asked them to complete a health questionnaire, take a blood test, and report on the symptoms they experienced up to three days after the event.
Eye and nose problems were reported by 61% of the runners sampled and subsequent blood tests to determine whether immunoglobulin E antibodies were present -- the telltale sign of an allergic reaction -- revealed that 35% of the runners were experiencing an allergy.
The study also found that 14% were specifically allergic to tree pollen. Tree pollen is particularly high in London in April as this is when pollen from high birch and London plane trees is released and tree-pollen counts had been high on the day of the 2010 marathon itself.
Dr Robson-Ansley comments: "These post-event sniffles might seem minor, but there are clear risks that people could go on to develop exercise-induced asthma and airway inflammation. Our survey also revealed that only 8% were taking anti-allergy medication so there is a clear gap between the number of people who could benefit from treatment and the number actually doing so."
In a further result that has implications for next year's Olympic Games, Dr Robson-Ansley found that 29% of the runners were showing an immunoglobulin E reaction to grass pollen.
"The Olympics are taking place during the peak grass-pollen period," she says, "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."
Dr Robson-Ansley's advice on athletes and asthma is as follows:
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