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When Your Workout Makes You Itch

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Exercise-induced itching is a fairly common phenomenon, and the culprit is heat.

Explanation: Physical exertion creates heat in the hard-working muscles. This heat spreads, raising your internal temperature. The body needs to get rid of this extra core heat, so it sends more blood—which normally has a temperature of about 98.6º—to the relatively cooler skin, which is typically 80º to 90º. This excess heat makes the skin “think” that it is being injured. In self-defense, special skin cells release histamine, which in turn triggers itching, Dr. Schultz explained. Sweating exacerbates the problem because, even though perspiring is a body-cooling mechanism, the sweat itself further irritates the skin.

Though the itch can arise anywhere, it most often affects the face, scalp and neck. These areas contain a rich network of blood vessels and thus receive a lot of blood flow. In addition, your hair traps heat and increases sweating on the scalp. Contrary to what you may have heard, yeast on the skin is a not a factor in exercise-induced itching.

What helps: To minimize itching during workouts, try to keep your body relatively cool and dry while you’re exercising. For instance…

• Wear clothing that breathes and wicks away wetness. Good fabrics for workout wear include moisture-wicking synthetics and cotton/polyester blends (100% cotton breathes but won’t wick). Avoid 100% nylon, which traps moisture and restricts airflow.

• Wear a cooling neck wrap, following product instructions for chilling. Many such products are sold online for about $10 (for instance, at www.PolarBreezeBandanas.com).

• Keep a fresh towel handy to wipe away sweat before it has a chance to irritate skin.

• Lower the room temperature if possible—you’re less likely to itch in a cool room.

• Turn on a fan. The moving air helps to cool and dry your skin.

• If you exercise outdoors when it’s warm, shift your workout time to a cooler hour of the day.

• The more intense the workout, the itchier you are likely to feel—so consider reducing your exercise intensity.

• If the problem persists, try taking a nonsedating over-the-counter antihistamine, such as 60 mg of fexofenadine (Allegra), one hour before you work out. Dr. Schultz did not recommend putting a topical antihistamine on your skin.

For more info: See Dr. Schultz’s video at www.DermTV.com/prevent-exercise-itching.

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Source: Neal B. Schultz, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and owner of Park Avenue Skin Care center, both in New York City. He also is the founder of www.DermTV.com and author of It’s Not Just About Wrinkles (Stewart, Tabori and Chang). www.NealSchultzMD.com Date: September 13, 2012 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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