What are Hives?
Hives (also known as urticaria or nettle rash) appear as defined skin irritations on various parts of the body. Hives can be round, or they can form rings or large patches. Wheals (welts), or red lesions with a red "flare" at the borders, are also manifestation of hives. Swelling deeper in the skin that may accompany hives is called angioedema and may occur on the hands and feet as well as on mucous membranes – such as swelling of the lips or eyes, which can be dramatic and brief.
There are different types of hives:
- Ordinary urticaria (ordinary hives) – appear for no specific reason and disappear fast
- Chronic hives – lasting from months to years (rare)
- Physical urticaria (physical hives) – produced by direct physical stimulation of the skin such as wearing a seatbelt or water pressure in the shower often causing a welt or mass of tiny bumps
What Causes Hives?
Hives can be caused by physical phenomena or even be idiopathic, (the medical term which means that no cause, allergic or otherwise, can be found). In the case of an allergic reaction, the body releases a protein called histamine. When histamine is released our capillaries (tiny blood vessels in the body close to the skin surface) leak fluid. The fluid accumulates in the skin and causes the appearance of a rash or hives.
Other reasons hives may occur
- Certain foods
- Insect bites and stings
- Irritants (such as nettles, chemicals or latex),
- Certain medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat pain or ACE inhibitors, used to treat hypertension/high blood pressure)
- Chronic illness – such as thyroid disease or lupus
- Extremes of temperatures (both hot or cold)
- Sunlight and water sensitivity
Hives can form suddenly as red, itchy and raised patches on the skin on the trunk arms, legs and back. Interestingly, hives often appear fast and without warning, only to disappear again and re-appear in a matter of hours. Outbreaks may tend to look rather alarming, and may last from 2 – 24 hours. This means that very often by the time you make it to a doctor’s appointment; there is no evidence of hives.
Most doctors will be able to make a diagnosis of hives based on your description of the condition and other symptoms or feelings surrounding the event. In rare cases, chronic hives can last from a few months to years, but these are not common. If hives do persist, doctors may investigate further using blood tests, stool samples, immune function tests, thyroid and liver function test. In rare cases hives may be accompanied by shock and difficulty breathing, known as anaphylaxis, however, the vast majority of cases do not lead to life-threatening complications.
Help for Hives
Treatment for hives will depend largely on the severity and frequency of the outbreaks. Depending on the cause, (if the doctor feels it is physical or psychological) different options of treatment would be considered.
Hives are conventionally treated with antihistamines and while this may help to address the rash and stop the itching, they may be accompanied by side effects such as acute drowsiness and fatigue. Pregnant women are cautioned against taking antihistamines – many doctors prescribe chlorphenamine for hives, but the effects of this on the unborn baby are not fully known. If symptoms are very severe a short course of high-dose oral corticosteroids may be prescribed – which suppress the immune system and should not be taken longer than 5 days. Oral steroids can help severe cases of hives in the short-term, but their usefulness is limited by the fact that many cases of hives last too long for steroid use to be continued safely.
Other treatments include ultraviolet radiation, antifungal antibiotics and tricyclic antidepressants but evidence to support the benefit of such treatments is sparse. Topical therapies for hives include creams and lotions that numb nerve endings and reduce itching. Cortisone-containing creams (steroids) are not very helpful in controlling the itch of hives.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies for Hives
Homeopathic ingredients can be a natural, safe and effective way to assist in the recovery and treatment of hives. Specific ingredients include Apis mel – developed from honey bees – this is suited to those conditions that itch and cause disruption of the skin, often presenting as specific raised marks. Urtica urens is useful when symptoms tend to be aggravated by warmth, bathing, or vigorous exercise and the itching tends to be worse in the morning. Chamomilla is a wonderfully soothing homeopathic remedy that can help to calm agitated skin. Similarly, Ammon carb and Rhus tox are well-known to address any aggravation on the skin or any itchy disorder.
More Information on Hives
Tips to Ease the Symptoms of Hives
There are some general measures you can take to ease the symptoms associated with urticaria:
- Avoid heat and keep the temperature of the skin cool
- Avoid drinking alcohol, as it causes flushing of the skin
- Try not to scratch affected areas as this will likely worsen the stinging
- Wear loose fitting clothing – lessening pressure on the skin
- Partake in a natural detox – burn excess fats to lessen histamine production, and excrete toxins through sweat this means minimal toxin and microbes are left in the system
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you experience the following symptoms along with hives – seek medical attention immediately:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling of the lining of the mouth, tongue, lips and throat; causing breathing difficulty
- Cold and clammy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
- An unexpectedly abrupt feeling of intense anxiety