Hives, or medically known as urticaria, is a skin rash that is itchy, bumpy, and reddish. They are often caused by allergies but several non-allergic causes also exist. Often, the surrounding area is washed out in pale red and several elevations, called wheals, are noticeable. Its appearance is similar when you have touched poison ivy or poison oak.
Multiple causes for hives exist. Several common medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can cause urticaria. Stress can also cause urticaria, as does wearing constrictive clothing. Rarer causes include the cold, the sun, and even water!
The most common cause for urticaria, however, is food. Shellfish and nuts are the most common allergies, as are eggs, wheat, and soy. Exercise following consumption of these allergens can worsen the symptoms.
A unique condition called dermatographism or dermatographic urticaria also exists. It is a form of urticaria where if the skin is scratched, a wheal forms. Write your name and you get a rash with your name on it.
The Different Treatments:
Two classes of urticaria also exist: acute and chronic. Often, the acute type shows up after being exposed to an allergen. Foods are a common cause, as are insect bites and stings. Fewer common causes include friction, pressure, and sunlight. Chronic urticaria, on the other hand persists for more than six weeks. It may subside for a time but recurs every now and then. A very bothersome and debilitating condition can bring down your self-esteem because of the itchiness and the rashes. Visually, however, acute and chronic urticaria is impossible to tell apart.
When urticaria is chronic, allergy testing may be called for. It is a lengthy and sometimes painful process where the physician pricks an area of your body with numerous needles that contain allergens to see which you are allergic too. Nonetheless, it is a very beneficial process as you can prevent exposure to a specific allergen if found and prevent yourself from going into an anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction.
- Home-Based Remedies/Personal Care/Natural Options:
A similar and bothersome condition, associated with urticaria is angioedema. This is swelling occurring in the deeper layers of the skin manifesting usually around the mouth, eyes, throat, and abdomen. This condition often appears with allergen-caused urticaria. This can be a concern, as angioedema of the throat can be fatal as it blocks the airway. If you’ve seen movies where the main character eats a peanut and suddenly bloats up, that is angioedema and urticaria doing its job.
1. Wet, Cold Compress or a Cool Bath:
For mild urticaria, all you need to do is to cool the area down. Since the area is essentially inflamed, you can cool it down by soaking a cloth in cold water and placing it over the area. You can also soak your cloth in milk, which also helps to reduce inflammation. Alternatively, if the rashes are all over your body, you may want to opt for a cool shower. Repeat as necessary.
2. Herbal Teas:
Teas are great for their multiple health benefits. They can be infused with various herbs to add more benefits to the already numerous phytochemicals in tea. When using loose-leaf tea, make sure to steep the leaves for 10 minutes before drinking. If using teabags, 5 minutes is enough. Tea leaves and bags can be reused immediately for a second helping but should not be stored around for long. Among the tea infusions that help with this ailment are the following:
3. Green Tea:
Other than its multiple health benefits, green tea also exerts some antihistamine effects. It also produces a mild astringent effect when the soaked leaves are applied to the inflamed skin. This helps to shrink the skin and relieve inflammation and itching.
4. Licorice Root:
Licorice has been successfully shown in research to be effective to some skin conditions. It helps to reduce inflammation. After drinking its tea, you can use the leaves or the teabag as a compress, much like green tea. Not only does it give you an anti-inflammatory effect, it also helps with heart health, liver health, ulcers, diabetes, and cough.
5. Goldenseal or Orangeroot:
Though known for its stomach-easing properties, it is also used as a remedy for allergies. It has a cooling effect like menthol. Before taking this herb, however, make sure to consult a physician as it interacts with multiple medications. Do not take this herb if pregnant, with chills, or if on antidepressants.
6. Devil’s Claw:
If your hives become severe, you may want to opt for this herb. Though it sounds evil and malevolent, it actually has very beneficial properties for those with rashes. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (painkilling) chemicals that will help reduce the irritation of the rashes. In fact, Devil’s Claw has been shown in research to reduce back pain to some extent. Avoid this if you are on anticoagulant therapy (warfarin or heparin), have peptic ulcers, or gastritis.
This flower has been heavily studied and found to have multiple beneficial effects. It prevents cancer, reduces anxiety, is antifungal, reduces inflammation, and is antidiarrheal. Take in its tea to help reduce this disease and to calm you down when under stress. Do avoid this when you are taking the medication, warfarin.
8. Valerian Tea:
Much like chamomile, this herb reduces anxiety. It is quite potent and has sometimes been used to treat insomnia. The tea should help you relax especially if your urticaria is caused by stress. Avoid drinking this tea though when you plan to take in alcohol, when you plan to driving or operating heavy machinery, or are pregnant.
9. Catnip Tea:
Traditionally, catnip has been used for a variety of ailments. It is used as a tea, a juice, a tincture, an infusion, or a poultice. The tea helps to reduce anxiety and inflammation but its effect are not very potent. If you don’t find it to be of much help, perhaps you can give the catnip to your pet cat that may enjoy it more.
10. Red Alder Tea:
Native Americans have used red alder to treat insect bites and rashes caused by poison ivy and poison oak. Alternatively, you can take in the tea to help it reduce inflammation of the urticaria all over your body. Afterward, you can apply the leaves or the teabag to the affected area.
11. Stinging Nettle:
Ironically, stinging nettles can cause rashes. Nevertheless, when used properly, it can reduce the symptoms of this disease. Doctors recommend using a freeze-dried preparation of the herb, which can reduce the amount of histamine molecules in your bloodstream, much like typical antihistamines. The herb exists in pill form or as a tincture, which you can use as a counterirritant.
A relative of the sunflower, the coltsfoot has been traditionally used to treat inflammation in Austria. It is used in teas, as a poultice, and has even been included in candy. The leaves can be ground to paste and applied to the affected area. Alternatively you can buy a tea infusion of coltsfoot, prepare some tea, and use the teabag as a compress.
Another well-researched herb is basil. Popular in culinary circles for being the main ingredient of pesto, the herb also exhibits multiple medicinal properties. It has antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral characteristics as shown in research. It has also shown to relieve stress, asthma, and diabetes. If you feel your urticaria is often triggered by stress, perhaps a basil compress may do the job to reduce the inflammation of your rashes.
14. Oatmeal Bath:
If large portions of your body are covered in rashes, you may want to get an oatmeal bath. Popular in spas for its rejuvenating effect, oatmeal baths also help to reduce the inflammation of itchy areas of the body caused by this ailment, chickenpox, sunburn, poison ivy, or eczema. Ground up a cup of oatmeal in a food processor or coffee grinder and add this to your bathwater. Allow the bits of oatmeal to soak into your skin for a couple of minutes to relieve the irritation.
15. Aloe Vera:
Aloe Vera has long been touted as the “plant of immortality” during ancient Egyptian times. Its skin rejuvenation properties are second-to-none and even exhibit multiple other effects. It is a counter-irritant, a laxative, and helps with herpes and psoriasis. Applying a gel made of Aloe Vera on the affected area can quickly reduce any inflammation and irritation.
Asia’s wonder drug has been shown to have multiple uses. It is used to ease nausea and reduce the irritation of sore throat among others. Fresh ginger has also been shown to have a cooling and painkilling effect when applied to the skin. Make sure to peel and refrigerate your ginger beforehand to give an additional coolness to the skin.
Another preparation is to boil a quarter-cup of brown sugar, an inch of ginger, and a cup of vinegar. When ready, take a tablespoon of the mixture and mix with some warm water. Apply it to the affected area to achieve the same effect.
17. Calamine Lotion:
This lotion was and still is our best friend when it comes to itchiness. It is made of zinc oxide and ferric oxide, the main ingredients of sunscreen. It quickly reduces itching after application and is often found over-the-counter. You can repeat the application as needed. It also helps to treat itchiness caused by chickenpox, insect bites, poison ivy, and poison oak.
18. Witch Hazel:
Witch Hazel has traditionally been cultivated by American Indians and has been used on various occasions among which are as treatment for skin conditions, and astringents, treatment for bruises, as an aftershave, and as treatment for insect bites. This just goes to show that wide anti-inflammatory effect that witch hazel has. This herb is mainly sold in stores as a distillate or as an essential oil.
19. Baking Soda:
Sodium bicarbonate or baking soda is the king of the multipurpose household items. From being used as toothpaste, to extinguishing fire, to baking cakes, baking soda probably has more than a thousand uses known to man. One such use is to relieve itching associated with poison ivy and poison oak. It also relieves itching from urticaria. Apply a small amount of water to a spoon of baking soda to form a paste. Apply the paste directly to the area and allow to dry and to crust over to relieve itching.
20. Cream of Tartar:
Similar to baking soda, cream of tartar also exhibits some anti-itch properties. And much like baking soda, just add a bit of water to form a paste and apply to the affected area to relieve itching.
21. Apple Cider Vinegar:
Vinegar has an astringent and soothing effect that reduces the symptoms of this ailment. Try to use apple cider vinegar, as it is less pungent than regular can vinegar. Mix in equal parts of apple cider vinegar and water and apply to a cotton ball. Wipe the area with the mixture to soothe itching and reduce inflammation.
Also known as, impatiens, balsam, or touch-me-not, jewelweed is common throughout the Northern Hemisphere and is characteristically known for its explosive seeds. Much like baking soda, it is used to relieve itching associated with poison ivy and poison oak. You can dab a solution or lotion of jewelweed to the affected area to relieve itching from urticarial.
23. Vitamin C:
High dose of Vitamin C, around 2,000mg per day, has been shown to reduce histamine levels, the compound that triggers this disease. You can purchase vitamin C easily from the pharmacy but make sure to check with your physician first before downing this amount. Excessive vitamin C intake can cause kidney stones and diarrhea.
24. Yoga, Relaxation, and Meditation:
When your hives are triggered by stress, yoga or meditation goes a long way. Additionally, you can light up a few scented candles or incense sticks to further help you relax and rid yourself of the stresses of everyday life.
25. Natural Balanced Diet Coupled with Exercise:
Although the main cause of urticaria has yet to be found, many sufferers have expressed relief in changing to a natural diet – that is no processed foods and no fast food. The problem with modern food is that much of it is processed. Chemicals are added to increase shelf life or to preserve flavor. Unknowingly, the industry has not studied many of these chemicals and these may perhaps trigger many allergic reactions in the population.
It is recommended that sufferers have a diet high in fiber. This helps to clean out the intestines of any remaining toxins and effectively detoxes it. Buying organic will also help, as these produce have not been applied any pesticides, which may leave a residue on fruits and vegetables. Limitation of histamine-producing foods such as lobster, shrimp, strawberries, crabs, nuts, and bone marrow helps to reduce the occurrence of rashes.
Exercise is also important as it helps to sweat out these toxins. Regular exercise that helps you sweat is ideal. Alternatively, sufferers may try the sauna to help them sweat the dirt out of their system. It is theorized that some histamine is excreted as we sweat and as this compound is the main trigger for urticaria, it is important to remove much of it. Drinking lots of water to help you urinate and sweat will definitely help to excrete this compound.
Water has also been touted to be one of the causes. If you feel the water company insufficiently filters your tap water, you may want to purchase commercial filters that can further purify your water. Drinking more than 2 to 3 liters of water a day has also been found to help patients suffering from urticaria. Theoretically, by increasing your fluids, the concentration of histamine in your blood is reduced. This also triggers your kidney to excrete the excess water along with the histamine in your blood stream.
- Medical Options:
When home remedies no longer do the job, certain medications can help with this disease. From mild medications to those that have a strong rapid effect exist for all types of urticaria severity.
26. Quercetin Supplements:
Quercetin is a combination of buckwheat and citrus. It is sold in pill form and is said to help reduce inflammation associated with skin conditions. Take a 400mg capsule twice daily for about 6 to 8 weeks. Naturally, you can find quercetin in capers, radish leaves, dill, and cilantro.
27. Medicated Powders:
Multiple medicated powders exist in the market that helps with itching. These cornstarch-based powders are often laced with anti-itch medications and can vastly help with everyday irritation. Apply to the affected area or apply all over the body before going about your daily tasks.
Antihistamines are the most common type of medication prescribed for allergies. The most common include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin/Allerta), and the potent drugs diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and hydroxyzine (Atarax). They work by blocking histamine from attaching to its receptors in the brain, which causes the symptoms of allergies, including hives.
Two types of antihistamines exist, the first and the second generation. The first generation antihistamines, which include diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine, enter the brain to a higher degree, which causes drowsiness. In fact, these drugs are also used to treat insomnia. Second generation antihistamines, on the other hand, enter the brain to a lesser degree, and cause much less sedation. The latest third generation causes even less sedation and better efficacy, they include levocetirizine, fexofenadine, and desloratadine.
Antihistamines are over-the-counter and you can buy them just about anywhere. It is recommended that you get a prescription to fit the best antihistamine for your symptom.
29. Systemic Steroids:
For chronic urticaria, physicians may prescribe the use of corticosteroids. These medications are artificial versions of some hormones in our body. They reduce inflammation all over the body and are effective for urticaria.
Most of these medications are used in conjunction with antihistamines to provide better symptom control. Long-term use of steroids, however, produces numerous unwanted side effects. These include increased susceptibility to infection, weight gain, and osteoporosis among others. Be careful when using these medications and always follow the prescription to the letter. If any unwanted reactions appear, consult your physician immediately.
30. Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists:
Also used for chronic urticaria, leukotriene receptor antagonists are a new class of drug that fights allergies. They act by combating leukotrienes, fatty compounds in our body that promote inflammation. They have very few side effects and are highly convenient in pill form. It is most effective for NSAID-induced urticaria – urticaria caused by ibuprofen and aspirin.
Epinephrine or adrenaline is an emergency drug. It is used to revive patients in cardiac arrest temporarily by improving their heart functions. It is also used for urticaria associated with anaphylaxis, which is caused by allergies. Epinephrine that has been prescribed often comes in the form of an Epipen. This is a pen-sized syringe that autoinjects a set dosage. It is very useful for patients that have ingested foods they are allergic too or bee stings that have caused anaphylaxis. The epinephrine immediately reverses the inflammation that’s blocking the airway and any urticaria that has appeared.
32. Antibody Therapy:
Monoclonal antibodies are specially designed to act on different receptors. Omalizumab (Xolair) for example treats chronic idiopathic urticaria, a non-allergic condition. Though omalizumab works by blocking IgE, molecules that have been highly associated to allergies, it is currently unknown how it works on chronic idiopathic urticaria, a condition which has no association whatsoever with IgE.
Hives is a very common condition so there is no need to worry. There have been many studies done on finding the root cause and the most effective treatment. If you know the cause of your breakouts, perhaps due to an allergy test, make sure to avoid it at all costs. Make an effort to block out the sun with a hat, put on a coat if it’s cold, or clean the house regularly to reduce dust. Chronic urticaria, however, should be constantly treated with whatever works for you. Should you find that home and herbal remedies are ineffective, you can always visit your family physician for a prescription.