Hives (also known as urticaria in the medical community) is an annoying condition that consists of red or white welts that you would feel the need to itch incessantly. Their sizes vary greatly; some can be only a few millimeters wide, whereas others can be as large as that of a human hand. They can appear uniformly throughout the body, or it may be concentrated in a certain region. These welts may disappear in a few hours, only to re-appear at a different part of the body. This will appear like a never-ending cycle, until you have completely recovered from the attack.
Understand The Types of Hives
Hives are essentially an allergic reaction, caused when your body produces too much histamine, which is a type of a protein. These attacks can be categorized as short-term, chronic or long-term hives. One can easily guess that these categories are so named based upon how long the sufferer typically suffers from an outbreak. Some detailed explanation and triggers are as follows:
- Short-term Hives/Urticaria:
- It can have the following triggers:
- Environmental allergens such as insect bites, latex, pollen, dust, mites etc.
- Food allergens such as shellfish, peanuts, eggs, cheese etc.
- Physical triggers such as changes in temperature or exposure to sunlight may trigger symptoms of hives as well.
- A really wide range of infections, ranging from the common cold to HIV may trigger hives as well.
- It can manifest as a response to emotional stress.
- It can be an allergic reaction to a wide variety of medications such as antibiotics, aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
It is called short-term hives because people usually recover as soon as they disassociate themselves from the triggers.
- Chronic Hives/Urticaria
Chronic hives/urticaria: Chronic hives are essentially repeated attacks of short –term hives. This happens when people are not able to disassociate themselves from what is triggering the urticaria outbreak. For example, people who live in warm countries but have a condition where hives are triggered by heat will find it hard to control their symptoms, especially during the summer. Also if someone has work-related stress as a trigger but cannot afford to switch jobs or careers may suffer from this condition as well.
Besides being repeatedly exposed to triggers for short term hives, chronic urticaria may also be caused by hyperthyroidism (a condition where your thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone), hypothyroidism (a condition where your thyroid gland does not produces enough of the thyroid hormone) or by an attack of hepatitis (liver infection).
- Long-term Hives/Urticaria:
Long-term hives are caused by an auto-immune reaction, which means that our body’s antibodies (a type of protein that attacks a bacterial or a viral infection) mistakes a part of the body (the skin in this case) as an external invader and attacks it. Medical researchers are yet to pin-point as to what causes these triggers, but there is high incidence of long-term hives among those suffering from either lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Home Remedies for Treating Hives
Although the symptoms of hives tend to disappear on their own, you need not suffer through the entire protracted episode to get some well-deserved relief. Following are some home remedies that will help you manage and get rid of the symptoms faster.
- Ice Packs or Cold Compresses
Unless your hives are triggered by cold (which is incredibly rare) using ice packs or cold compresses will help you treat your hives. Applying this ice packs or cold compresses will constrict your blood vessels, which would impede your body from secreting more histamine.
You can use a traditional ice pack and place it on the affected area for about 15 minutes. If you do not have ice packs handy, take a few ice cubes and wrap them in a washcloth and apply it on the welts. You may use a bag of frozen vegetables as well! Please note that you should not directly apply ice cubes on the outbreaks as it may damage your skin.
Besides cold compresses, try to keep yourself in a cool environment as much as possible. Cold baths or showers may help as well.
- Baking Soda
As discussed earlier, histamines are a form of protein, which is made of amino acids. “Acid” is the operative word here, which tells us that our hives are slightly acidic in nature. People who remember their high school chemistry will know that you need an alkali to neutralize the acids. Sodium bicarbonate, which is more commonly known as baking soda is an alkali that is available in most kitchens, and it can come to your rescue, if you know how to use it.
Take two tablespoons of baking soda and add a few drops of water to make a smooth paste. Apply the paste on the affected area and let it dry naturally. Applying the paste will provide you with some immediate relief from the itch. Keep applying it as often as you would like, so that the symptoms disappear completely.
- Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera gel is extremely versatile in treating a wide variety of skin ailments. It can also help soothe the itching sensation that accompanies a hives outbreak. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties; hence it will also protect the affected area from secondary infections.
For best results get an aloe leaf and chop off the rinds. Take the leaf apart and apply the natural aloe gel directly on the affected area. Let your skin soak the aloe naturally. Apply it as many times as you want during the course of the day. If you cannot get hold of an aloe leaf, visit your local pharmacy and procure a bottle of organic aloe gel.
- Castor Oil
Organic castor oil has natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that can help treat the symptoms and also protect the area from secondary infections. Applying it on the affected area will not only provide you with some relief from the itch but will actually help you treat the condition as well. Feel free to apply it as often as you would like.
Sometimes a chronic hives attack shows no sign of abating because the allergens that caused the attack are still stuck to your skin. To ensure that doesn’t happen, it is an excellent idea to take a cold shower (not a hot shower because as discussed earlier, heat can trigger hives or exacerbate an existing outbreak) with a mild soap. This will help you dislodge any allergens that may be stuck to your skin, without making the outbreak worse.
It is best to use soap that is without perfumes or dyes, so that it does not make the allergy worse. It is best to use soap that is designed for babies or those for sensitive skin.
- Bark of Red Alder
Red alder (Alnus rubra), which is native to western North America has been used by Native Americans to treat a wide variety of skin ailments for centuries. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that says that drinking tea made from the dried bark of a red alder tree is an effective cure for hives.
It is really easy to make:
- Boil some water.
- Add one teaspoon of the dried bark from a red alder tree.
- Let it steep for about 10 minutes.
- Pour the liquid into a cup via a sieve, so that it filters out the floating bark.
- Add a tablespoon of honey for taste and drink it!
Feel free to drink this as many times as you want!
- Green Tea
Green tea is a rich source of catechins, which helps in neutralizing free radicals such as histamines. If you can procure some organic green tea leaves, you can prepare green tea the same way you would prepare the red alder bark tree, as described in the previous section. If you cannot procure green tea leaves, you can use green teabags instead.
As green tea also has a high caffeine content, it is best to limit yourself to up to three cups per day.
Besides providing you with your daily dose of fiber, topical application of uncooked oatmeal can be used to get some relief from the incessant itching sensations. This will not treat the underlying conditions; hence it should be used in conjunction with other treatments. There are several ways you can do this:
- Oatmeal compresses: Following is how you can use oatmeal compresses to get some relief from the symptoms:
- Take a bowl and place a piece of cloth on it, preferable made from cotton or nylon.
- Pour a handful of uncooked oatmeal in this cloth and pour some water (cold or in room temperature) on it.
- Let is steep for about 5 minutes.
- Tie the cloth to form a poultice and press it gently on the outbreak.
- The water formed after you take out the oatmeal compress can be used as a topical ointment during the course of the day.
- Oatmeal baths: Taking an oatmeal bath is just as easy:
- Turn on the cold water faucet in your bath-tub and wait till the tub is almost quarter full.
- Take a piece of cheesecloth or a muslin cloth, pour a handful of oatmeal into it and tie it under the nozzle in such a way that the water has to pass through it once you turn the faucet back on.
- Turn the faucet back on and fill the tub.
- Step into it and take a cool, relaxing bath for about 15 minutes. Feel free to use the oatmeal poultice as a loofah.
- Licorice Root
The anti-inflammatory properties of licorice root are well-documented and have been used to treat a wide variety of ailments throughout the ages. You can prepare licorice root tea the same way you would prepare red alder bark tea or green tea. The only difference is that since licorice is naturally sweet, there is no need to add honey for added taste.
Some find the taste of licorice to be a bit strong; hence they can feel free to add a pinch of dried licorice root powder to an herbal tea of their choice. Adding licorice root powder to green tea or red alder bark tea will make those treatments more potent as well!
This treatment is not recommended for:
- People with high blood pressure. This also includes pregnant women as blood pressure remains elevated during the course of the pregnancy.
- People who take medicine to control their diabetes may face an allergic reaction, if they consume licorice.
- People who suffer from heart conditions.
- Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion is a powerful astringent, which makes it a part of the beauty regimen for most women. This can also be used to help shrink the blood vessels, thus reducing the flow of histamines to the affected area. It is also soothing, which will provide relief from the itch.
For best results, apply it on the affected area for as many times as you would like during the course of the day.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to use apple cider vinegar (ACV) to treat your hives, because histamines are acidic in nature and ACV has liberal quantities of acetic acid. However, it also has strong anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties as well, which trumps its acidic nature and proves to be an effective cure for hives.
Following is how you can use apple cider vinegar to cure your hives:
- Take a couple of tablespoons of corn starch and add a few drops of ACV to it to form a smooth paste.
- Wash the affected area with some cold water and pat it dry.
- Apply the paste on the affected area and let it dry naturally.
- Rinse it off once the area is completely dry.
You should not apply undiluted apple cider vinegar on any part of your skin. Before applying this treatment you also need to make sure that you are not allergic to ACV. Following is how you can determine that:
- Take a teaspoon of ACV and dilute it with water in a 1:1 ratio.
- Apply it on an unaffected part of the skin.
- It should sting for a couple of seconds, which is perfectly normal and the sensation should abate naturally. However, if you feel a burning sensation that stays for an unreasonably long time, it is probably because you are allergic to ACV and you need to seek an alternate method of treatment for hives symptoms.
For best results, try to procure some organic apple cider vinegar that has the “mother of vinegar” still in it.
- Vitamin C
Research shows that consuming 1000 mg. of Vitamin C (which is the recommended dosage for leading a healthy life even when you are not suffering from hives) everyday reduces the production of histamines by about 20%. Hence, having enough vitamin C in the diet will significantly reduce the chances of future outbreaks. There are several foods that are incredibly rich on Vitamin C such as potatoes, yellow bell peppers, black currants, cauliflowers, kale, strawberries, oranges, lemons, pineapples, etc. You can use Vitamin C supplements as well.
- Witch Hazel
Treats hives exactly the same way that calamine lotion does. Needs to be used the same way as well!
- Fish oils
Fish oils are rich in omega-three-fatty acids, which has highly potent anti-inflammatory properties. Adding fish like mackerel, trout, tuna and salmon are excellent natural ways to get more omega-three-fatty acids into your system.
If eating fish is not an option, then you can take fish oil capsules as well.
- Stress Reduction
When we are under stress, our body goes into high alert and triggers what is known as the fight or flight response. In certain individuals, this may trigger the secretion of histamines, resulting in the formation of hives. Stress is an unavoidable by-product of modern life and different people choose to deal with it in different ways. Some may listen to music, whereas others practice yoga or meditation techniques.
Sometimes you may need to identify the root cause of your stress to eliminate it. If your stress is work-related, you may consider having a word with your supervisor or taking some time off and going on a relaxing vacation. Sometimes it is health-related, for example constipation may cause people to be stressed as well. Identifying what’s causing you to be stressed will help you eliminate or minimize it!
- Wearing Loose Fitting Clothes
Wearing loose fitting clothes, especially those made from cotton helps you manage the symptoms of hives because:
- Cotton absorbs sweat, hence helps the affected area to stay dry.
- Loose clothes cause minimum friction on the affected area, hence it will not irritate the welts and will allow you to manage the symptoms and allow the urticaria to heal naturally.
Avoid fabrics like silk and nylon, even if the garment is loose. This is because silk and nylon traps air, hence it will cause you to sweat, which will delay the healing of the outbreak.
In rare cases, certain individuals may fail to find any relief from the symptoms of hives. Such people should consult a general practitioner (GP) or a dermatologist and they may prescribe any of the following treatments.
Treatment for Short Term and Chronic Hives/Urticaria
Your GP or dermatologist may treat the symptoms of short term urticaria with the following medications that provide quick relief:
Antihistamines directly counteract the effect of histamines. Usually cetirizine, fexofenadine or loratadine are prescribed. Antihistamines may cause drowsiness, especially if consumed with alcohol, hence remember to ask your physician or your pharmacist about potential side-effects. You may also refer to the literature that usually comes with the packaging.
Most antihistamines are not prescribed for pregnant women, chlorphenamine being the only exception.
In case of severe outbreaks, corticosteroids such as prednisolone may be prescribed to control the symptoms. They suppresses the sufferer’s immune system, and hence is often prescribed as a last resort. The usual course lies between three to five days. It also has a wide range of side effects such as hypertension (high blood pressure) diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts if used for long.
Treatment for Long Term Hives/Urticaria
Long terms hives may also be treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids. Besides these, certain other medications may be prescribed, such as:
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists
This is a safer alternative to corticosteroids as it works the same way, but has minimal side effects that are limited to headache and nausea.
- H2 Antihistamines
When people just say antihistamines, they mean H1 antihistamines. H2 antihistamines go a step further and actually constricts your blood vessels to lower your histamine production, besides counteracting the existing histamines. They can also have potential side-effects such as headache, dizziness or diarrhea.
This is injected into a person’s body, if H1 or H2 antihistamines fail to have the desired effect. This medication also tries to counteract the effects of histamine.
Ciclosporin is usually prescribed as an alternative to corticosteroids and it has the same principle but has a longer list of side effects, which include:
- Increased vulnerability to cytomegalovirus, chest infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Increased levels of blood cholesterol
- Kidney failure
- Tremors (involuntary shaking)
- Narrowband ultraviolet B phytotherapy
The rash is exposed to high-energy ultraviolet that clears a persistent rash. It may cause symptoms similar to sunburn and may also cause skin cancer, much later.