How to relieve hives?

Hives (Urticaria)

Researchers have identified many – but not all – of the factors that can cause hives. These include food and other substances you take, such as medications. Some people develop hives just by touching certain items. Some illnesses also cause hives. Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • Some food (especially peanuts, eggs, nuts and shellfish)
  • Medications, such as antibiotics (especially penicillin and sulfa), aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Physical stimuli such as pressure, cold, heat, exercise or sun exposure
  • Latex
  • Blood transfusions
  • Bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections and strep throat
  • Viral infections, including the common cold, infectious mononucleosis and hepatitis
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Some plants

Antihistamines – available either over the counter or by prescription – are a frequently recommended treatment for hives. They work by blocking the effect of histamine, a chemical in the skin that can cause allergy symptoms, including welts. Antihistamines that don’t make you drowsy are preferred. They are effective and long-lasting (may be taken once a day) and have few side effects. Your allergist may recommend a combination of two or three antihistamines to treat your hives, along with cold compresses or anti-itch balms to ease the symptoms.

Severe episodes of urticaria may require temporary treatment with prednisone, a similar corticosteroid medication or an immune modulator, which can reduce the severity of the symptoms.

If your reaction involves swelling of your tongue or lips, or you have trouble breathing, your allergist may prescribe an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector for you to keep on hand at all times. These can be early symptoms of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock. The only treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine. If you develop hives and your injector is not nearby – or if using the auto-injector doesn’t cause the symptoms to immediately improve – call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. Emergency medical services carry epinephrine and can provide prompt treatment. You should also go to the emergency room after using an auto-injector.

If the cause of hives can be identified, the best treatment is to avoid the trigger or eliminate it:

  • Foods: Don’t eat foods that have been identified to cause your symptoms.
  • Rubbing or scratching: Avoid harsh soaps. Frequent baths may reduce itching and scratching – beneficial because itching and scratching can make the hives feel worse.
  • Constant pressure: Avoid tight clothing. Pressure hives can be relieved by wearing loose-fitting clothes.
  • Temperature: If you develop hives when exposed to cold, do not swim alone in cold water and always carry an epinephrine auto-injector. Avoid exposure to cold air and use a scarf around your nose and mouth in cold weather. If you must be out in the cold, wear warm clothing.
  • Sun exposure: Wear protective clothing; apply sunblock.
  • Medications: Notify your physician or pharmacist immediately if you suspect that a specific medication is causing your hives.

Chronic hives

Some cases of hives last for more than six weeks and can last months or years. This condition is known as chronic hives.

If the cause cannot be identified, even after a detailed history and testing, the condition is called chronic idiopathic urticaria. (“Idiopathic” means “unknown.”) About half these cases are associated with some immune findings. Chronic hives may also be associated with thyroid disease, other hormonal problems or, in very rare instances, cancer. Even this condition usually dissipates over time.

Physical urticaria

In physical urticaria, the hives have a physical cause, such as exposure to heat, cold or pressure.

Common triggers include:

  • Rubbing or scratching. This is the most frequent cause of physical urticaria. Symptoms appear within a few minutes in the place that was rubbed or scratched and typically last less than an hour.
  • Pressure or constriction. Delayed pressure urticaria can appear as red swelling six to eight hours after pressure (belts or constrictive clothing, for example) has been applied. Symptoms can also occur in parts of the body under constant pressure, such as the soles of the feet.
  • Change in temperature. Cold urticaria is caused by exposure to low temperatures followed by re-warming. This can be severe and life-threatening if there is a general body cooling – for example, after a plunge into a swimming pool.
  • Higher body temperature. Cholinergic urticaria is due to an increase in body temperature because of sweating, exercise, hot showers and/or anxiety.
  • Sun exposure. Solar urticaria may occur within a few minutes after exposure to the sun.

Inflammation of the blood vessels, or vasculitis, can also cause hives. These hives are more painful than itchy, may leave a bruise on the skin and often last more than a day.

Life’s too short to struggle with hives. Find answers with an allergist.

This page was reviewed and updated 6/11/2018.

How to Get Hives to Stop Itching

Ice for Hives

Chill the burning itch with a makeshift ice pack: Place some ice in a soft cloth and hold it against your hives, gently caressing the irritated skin. The cold compress will interfere with that itchy sensation and offer welcome (if temporary) relief.

Reusable (R)ice Pack

Rather than use up all the ice in your freezer, make a “rice pack” that you can use again and again with no mess and less waste! Pour uncooked rice into a sock, sew the opening closed, then pop it in the freezer for a couple hours. Press the cold pack on your rash to cool the burn and alleviate the itch. No more dripping, melting ice—same relief!

A Bath Can Help

If the hives are widespread on your body, take a soothing, warm bath (make sure the water is not hot!). Prepare a bath with one third of a cup of baking soda or uncooked ground oatmeal to calm and comfort your enflamed skin.

DIY Hives Ointment

For quick and inexpensive relief, simply add water to some baking soda until it forms a paste, then apply the paste over the affected skin. Baking soda is an alkaline that offsets the acidity of substances that might be causing the irritation.

Head to the Baby’s Room

Commonly used for diaper rashes, Desitin works wonders on skin irritations such as hives, burns, and scratches. The cream contains a mild astringent called zinc oxide, which heals and calms skin inflammation.

Antacid Rash Relief

Yup, you read that right! Liquid antacids like Pepto-Bismol and Maalox are fantastic itch-stoppers if you have hives. Their alkaline properties are intended to neutralize acids in the stomach, and they also soothe inflammation on the skin. Moisten a cotton ball or cloth with the antacid and pat on the rash.

Surprising Hives Reliever

Head to the kitchen! Most often needed in baking, cream of tartar is an acid salt also used for homemade cleaning solutions and, yes, for skin rashes! Despite its name, cream of tartar is not actually a cream but rather a powder, and you’ll need to combine it with water to create a paste-like texture for use on your skin. Blot on the affected area using a clean cloth or cotton ball.

See also: 9 Ways to Get Rid of Foot Calluses and Corns Naturally

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Hives are a common skin condition with itchy bumps known as wheals. They’re usually surrounded by red, irritated skin. They shouldn’t blister or become painful, and when you press one, it should look white, says Gary B. Carpenter, MD. Hives may be the first sign of an allergy to a drug, food, stinging or biting insect, or something inhaled, such as pollen, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, or animal dander. (Here’s the 9 weirdest things people are allergic to.)

Some hives develop after physical contact with an allergen. A friendly dog lick can raise an angry hive on someone allergic to dog saliva. Heat, emotions, exercise, and anything else that increases bloodflow to the skin can make hives more severe. The wheals invariably move up around the body and can occur anywhere. They spontaneously disappear and appear somewhere else. Once the allergen or infection is eliminated from the body, the hives will disappear within days or weeks. In the meantime, try these hives treatments to reduce the itch and swelling.

Send Antihistamines To The Rescue

Over-the-counter antihistamines cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin) can effectively ease the itch, says Carpenter. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) also works well, especially when it’s taken before bedtime. It can cause drowsiness, so refrain from use if you must drive.

Cool Down

Cold compresses can make hives disappear by dousing the flames of heat, exercise, and emotions that make hives worse, says Carpenter. The cold shrinks the blood vessels, which decreases blood supply to the skin. Apply a cold compress for as long as is comfortable, usually 10 to 30 minutes.

Use Calamine Lotion

This astringent is famous for taking the itch out of poison ivy, but it may help temporarily soothe the itch of your hives as well. Just like cold compresses, astringents lessen blood supply to the skin, says Carpenter. Other astringents that may help hives are witch hazel and zinc oxide.

MORE: 6 DIY Remedies For Irritated Skin

Try The Alkaline Answer

Anything that’s alkaline will usually help relieve the itch. So just dab some milk of magnesia on your hives, says Carpenter.

Help With Hydrocortisone

If you have just a few small hives, a hydrocortisone cream like Cortaid applied directly may relieve the itching for a while, says Jerome Z. Litt, MD.

Take A Bath

Soaking in a lukewarm tub of water with colloidal oatmeal can help temporarily, says Carpenter. Tepid water between 70°F and 95°F is cooler than normal body temperature and, when combined with evaporation from the skin, will reduce bloodflow and itching. The colloidal oatmeal is a good general anti-itch therapy, says Carpenter. (Here’s 5 more science-backed reasons to take a bath tonight.)

Do You Need To Call A Doctor When You Have Hives?

Hives are rarely life-threatening, but they can be part of a larger allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, says Carpenter. Anaphylaxis involves the entire body, and can cause fainting, wheezing, shortness of breathe, an imminent feeling of death, or closing of airways. If you have any symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately. If you’re inclined to this kind of reaction, you should be under a doctor’s care and carry epinephrine. If you have only hives and the discomfort isn’t eased by over-the-counter medications, consult your doctor, who can prescribe medication such as corticosteroids to treat the hives’ reaction, says Carpenter. If the hives become chronic (lasting longer than 6 weeks), you may need to see an allergist or dermatologist who can help pinpoint the cause. Hives can kill by blocking breathing passages. If you get hives in your mouth or throat, call 911 immediately.

MORE: 7 Things You Need To Know About Allergies

Panel Of Advisors

Gary B. Carpenter, MD, is a board-certified allergist-immunologist and clinical associate professor of internal medicine and community and family medicine at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. He is currently practicing at the Quincy Medical Group in Quincy, Illinois.

Jerome Z. Litt, MD, is a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland and author of Your Skin: From Acne to Zits.

Itchy, scratchy, burning hives can be simply annoying or even life-threatening

About 20 percent of the population has experienced at least one episode of hives. For some, hives are just a part of life, requiring constant vigilance to avoid food and environmental triggers or diligence in controlling underlying health issues. For an unlucky few – about two to three percent of people – hives are idiopathic, with no known cause. They may even be caused by stress.

Although hives aren’t difficult to identify, figuring out what’s causing them is sometimes easier said than done, according to Connie Hsu, MD, an allergy/immunology physician on staff at HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center.

Clinically known as urticaria, hives occur when the immune system releases the compound histamine in response to an injury, infection or allergic reaction. Hives generally appear like a rash of itchy, round, red, and sometimes raised, bumps or welts on the skin. The welts can vary in size. They sometimes merge into plaques and typically last for hours but sometimes for days. Treatment requires determining whether the outbreak is an acute, sudden episode or a recurring, chronic condition.

What are common causes of hives?

Hives often are caused by an allergic reaction to a food, environmental allergen or chemical. Even common non-steroidal medications like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause them, and so can infection.

Hives that last longer than six weeks or with recurring outbreaks over a six-week period are most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections like Helicobacter pylori (bacteria in the stomach), hepatitis or a dental infection. Autoimmune diseases like lupus and Hashimoto disease can also cause hives. While rare, hives have been associated with cancer. In children, the most common cause is infection such as strep throat or acute viral syndrome.

Food allergies

Dr. Hsu says fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more problematic for those with pollen allergies due to a condition called food-pollen syndrome, which is a cross-reaction between pollens and certain fresh fruits and vegetables. She says cooking produce can destroy the heat-sensitive antigens, minimizing the risk of allergic reaction. Other foods that top the allergy list include:

  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Eggs.
  • Peanuts.
  • Tree nuts.
  • Fish.
  • Shellfish.
  • Wheat.
  • Soy.

Depending on the person and the allergen, consuming these foods can cause an allergic reaction, including hives. More severe cases may result in anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction requiring medical attention.

What are environmental triggers for hives?

Arizona is an allergy hotspot thanks to its near-constant sunshine, mix of native and non-native plants and trees, and lack of freezing winters that has plants blooming throughout the year. Dr. Hsu says photosensitivity, a skin reaction to sunlight, is also known to cause hives. Other causes such as ice, hot showers or pressure on the skin from things like tight, restrictive clothing, can lead to hives. So can pollution and different types of airborne allergens, including dust or even dry mold that gets released into the air during construction. Airborne allergens are among the most troublesome because you can’t avoid them.

How do you treat hives?

Dr. Hsu says blood and skin tests may be necessary to determine what you’re allergic to and, in turn, what may be causing your hives. Generally speaking, hives alone aren’t dangerous, and they can usually be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl. However, if hives present as part of systemic allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention. More severe cases of hives or those that are idiopathic require a second line of defense with prescription medications.

Get help managing your hives from your HonorHealth doctor or call 623-580-5800 to find a doctor.

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