Are You Allergic To Spring Marathons?

As almost 40,000 runners get set to take part in next month'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:
  • If you think you have allergies, you need to find out as much as you can and develop a management plan.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • What time of year are you affected?
    • What causes your allergies (blood and skin-prick tests may be necessary)?
    • What are your normal symptoms?
  • Consider using a corticosteroid nasal spray or a non-sedating antihistamine as a preventative measure. But be aware that it can take up to two weeks for the treatment to work fully (and avoid taking non-sedating antihistamines around competitions).
  • Know your training and competition environment. Find out about typical pollen counts for the location and time of year. Tree pollen for example is usually released in the spring, grass pollen in late spring and early summer, and weed pollens in late summer into autumn.
  • Try to minimise exposure to pollens by running when the pollen count is low (cooler and cloudy days are associated with lower pollen counts compared to warmer, drier days). Shower and wash your hair after outside exercise to get rid of residual pollen. Change your clothing and rinse your nose with salt-water washes after exercise.
  • Remember that asthmatic athletes take medication regularly and according to instruction. Talk to your GP about whether you might need additional medication or to change your medication if you are training or competing in high pollen or in polluted environments.

Source: Northumbria University

See also: Cherry Juice At The Marathon Finish Line and Bad Air Affects Women More Than Men In Marathons

Cherry Juice At The Marathon Finish Line

Congratulations, you actually made it to the finish line after 26.2 miles of agony. You are exhausted and need some kind of recovery drink to pick you back up. Reach for the Gatorade? Chocolate milk? Water? No, your best bet is a big glass of tart cherry juice!

Dr Glyn Howatson, exercise physiologist and Laboratory Director in the School of Psychology and Sports Sciences at Northumbria University, examined the properties of Montmorency cherries in a study that found that athletes who drank the juice recovered faster after Marathon running than a placebo controlled group.

In the investigation, 20 marathon runners drank either a tart cherry blend juice or a placebo drink twice a day for five days before taking part in the London Marathon and for two days afterwards.

The findings indicated that the group who drank the cherry juice recovered their strength more rapidly than the control group over the 48-hour period following the marathon. Inflammation was also reduced in the cherry juice group, as was oxidative stress, a potentially damaging response that can be caused by strenuous physical activity, particularly long distance endurance exercise.

The study, which was run in collaboration with PhD student Jess Hill of St Mary's University College, concluded that cherry juice appears to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, hence aiding in the recovery of muscle function.

Dr Glyn Howatson(Credit: Image courtesy of Northumbria University)
Dr Howatson said: "Participating in long-distance endurance events, such as the London Marathon, causes a degree of muscle damage and inflammation for the runners. It takes several days to recover and during that period the runner's ability to conduct physical activity can be vastly inhibited.

"The phytochemicals, in particular, anthocyanins found in Montmorency cherries have anti-inflammatory and antioxidating properties, which the research has shown to be effective in helping exercisers to recover from strenuous physical activity."

Although it remains to be examined, Dr Howatson believes that the findings will not only benefit marathon runners but could also have serious implications in the treatment of people living with inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.

He said: "If funding can be secured to embark on a further study, we can determine whether the use of tart cherry juice has implications for the management of some clinical pathologies that display high levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

"People are increasingly looking at natural remedies, or neutraceuticals, to treat their conditions, and scientific studies, such as the research into tart cherries, examine the potentially untapped treatments held in natural resources, that can provide adjunct therapy for the management of disease, which can help reduce negative symptoms and improve quality of life."

See also: Barefoot Is Better and Running Addicts Need Their Fix

Source:  Northumbria University and Howatson et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01005.x

Bad Air Affects Women More Than Men In Marathons

Poor air quality apparently affects the running times of women in marathons, according to a study by Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineer Linsey Marr.  Her findings come from a comprehensive study that evaluated marathon race results, weather data, and air pollutant concentrations in seven marathons over a period of eight to 28 years.

The top three male and female finishing times were compared with the course record and contrasted with air pollutant levels, taking high temperatures that were detrimental to performance into consideration.

Higher levels of particles in the air were associated with slower running times for women, while men were not significantly affected, Marr said. The difference may be due to the smaller size of women's tracheas, which makes it easier for certain particles to deposit there and possibly to cause irritation
"Although pollution levels in these marathons rarely exceeded national standards for air quality, performance was still affected," Marr said.

Her work, done in collaboration with Matthew Ely, an exercise physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, appears in the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise.

Her studies were conducted where major U.S. marathons are located, such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, where pollution tends to be highest. Although the person might not be significantly impacted by low-yet-still-acceptable air quality, marathoners are atypical because of their breathing patterns, she said.

"Previous research has shown that during a race, marathon runners inhale and exhale about the same volume of air as a sedentary person would over the course of two full days," Marr said. "Therefore, runners are exposed to much greater amounts of pollutants than under typical breathing conditions."
Particulate matter appeared to be the only performance-altering factor in air quality, with carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide levels not impacting race times.

Source: Virginia Tech and Marr, Linsey C.; Ely, Matthew R. Effect of Air Pollution on Marathon Running Performance :. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2010; 42 (3): 585 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181b84a85

See also: Barefoot Is Better and Running Addicts Need Their Fix