The rash that appears with hives can be extremely itchy and spread across large areas of someone’s body.
While the symptoms of hives can be very irritating, there are many ways to treat, soothe, and get rid of hives. In most cases, the rash usually settles within a few days.
Types of Hives
There are several different types of hives, but the effects are mostly the same.
Types of hives include:
Acute urticaria. This rash lasts less than 6 weeks and is usually brought on by an adverse or allergic reaction to certain foods or medications. Infections and insect bites can also cause this type of rash.
Chronic urticaria and angioedema. These rashes last for more than 6 weeks. The rash is may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as thyroid disease, cancer, or hepatitis.
Chronic urticaria and angioedema is a more severe form of hives than acute urticarial, as it can spread to different areas of the body, including the lungs, muscles, and gastrointestinal tract. Angioedema is not usually itchy but causes a deeper swelling of the skin.
Physical urticaria. This is due to irritation of the skin. Extreme heat or cold, overexposure to the sun, excessive sweating, or clothes rubbing the skin during exercise can all result in an outbreak. This rash rarely spreads beyond the original location.
Dermatographism. This condition is when hives occurs due to scratching or vigorously rubbing the skin.
Causes of Hives
A hives outbreak occurs when high levels of histamine and other chemical messengers are released into the skin, causing a rash and other symptoms to surface.
The high levels of histamine cause blood vessels in the affected area to open up and start to leak. The resulting fluid in the tissues causes swelling and itchiness.
Different triggers might cause a person to have an outbreak of hives. Some common causes include:
- an allergic reaction to food, an insect bite, or an animal
- a reaction to a plant irritant, such as nettles
- a change in temperature
- sun exposure
- an infection, such as the flu or a cold
- certain medications
- preservatives and food additives
Aspirin and ibuprofen, some blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors), and codeine are medications commonly associated with hives.
If a person breaks out in hives, it is important for them to know what has triggered the reaction. Certain things can make the symptoms of hives worse, including:
Hives affect around 15 to 20 percent of people at some point during their lifetime. They are more likely to occur in women and children than men.
What Can You Do About Hives?
Identifying what triggered your rash is crucial. If you can identify the trigger, you can avoid contact with it and prevent more hives from forming.
Hives generally fade within 24 hours and don’t require treatment.
However, you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- swelling in your throat or face
- difficulty breathing
These may be signs of a severe allergic reaction and require emergency care.
If your hives are milder, continue reading to learn how to ease any discomfort and speed up the healing process.
Home Remedies for Hives
In most cases, home remedies are all you need to find relief. Here are a few ways to soothe your itchy skin:
Use a Cold Compress
Applying something cool to your skin can help relieve any irritation. To do this apply a cold compress to the affected area for up to 10 minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
Take an Anti-Itch Bath
There are several products you can add to a bath to relieve itching. These include oatmeal (specifically marketed as colloidal oatmeal for bathing) or one or two handfuls of baking soda.
How to Make a Colloidal Oatmeal Bath
Oatmeal has long been known to soothe irritated skin — not when you eat it, but when you apply it to the skin. There are many over-the-counter oatmeal bath mixes, lotions, and soaps. But all you need is plain ground oats and a bathtub to get the helpful effects.
You’ll want to use colloidal oatmeal. This is a finely ground oatmeal that dissolves in hot water and won’t clog your drain. You can buy it or make it yourself.
To make your own colloidal oatmeal, grind whole oats in a blender or food processor until the texture is a little grittier than regular flour. To see if you’ve ground it fine enough, mix a tablespoon in a cup of hot water. It should blend and stay suspended, with very little settling on the bottom.
Oatmeal has been scientifically proven to reduce skin swelling and itching. It contains fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are healthy for your skin.
Preparing Your Bath
If you’re using home ground oatmeal, experiment with how much is right for the water volume of your tub. (The only downside of using too much is that you’re wasting oats.)
It’s best to start with 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of colloidal oatmeal and work up to as much 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces).
An oatmeal bath should make your hives feel better, but it may feel slimy. To counteract that effect, add some sweet-smelling lavender essential oil.
People have used lavender for a long time to calm skin conditions like psoriasis. It also reduces blood pressure and heart rate, which can lower stress — a common trigger of hives. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil as you run your bath. There’s no right amount, just add a drop or two at a time. Don’t apply essential oils directly to your skin.
Use Care When Leaving the Tub
Use extra caution getting in and out of the tub. Oatmeal can make the surface slippery. Pat your skin gently with a towel when you get out. Avoid harsh rubbing as you dry yourself.
Avoid Irritating Products
Certain soaps may dry your skin and cause more itching when you have hives. Make sure to use a soap that’s marketed for sensitive skin. These typically omit fragrance and other irritating chemicals.
You should also avoid using irritating moisturizers or lotions. When in doubt, opt for a formula that targets sensitive skin. Applying immediately after bathing may also help soothe the itch.
Keep Yourself Cool
Heat can make your itching worse. Wear lightweight clothing and keep the temperature in your house cool and comfortable.
If you’re outside on a sunny day, try to stay in the shade.
If home remedies aren’t relieving your symptoms — but you aren’t ready to head to the pharmacy — you may want to give a few natural solutions a try.
Natural remedies typically aren’t regulated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so use with caution.
Witch Hazel is a topical astringent is derived from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel shrub. It’s rich in tannins (which reduce swelling) and polyphenols (antioxidant-rich compounds). You can dab it directly on your hives for relief.
Aloe vera is a plant known for its healing properties.
Although it’s a natural anti-inflammatory, it may cause contact dermatitis, so it’s important to do a skin patch test before application.
To do a skin patch test, simply apply a small amount of the product to an unaffected area of skin. If you can, apply to the inside of your forearm. If you don’t experience any irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply to any hives.
You can apply topical aloe vera to your hives as needed, likely a few times a day. Be sure to follow any instructions on the package.
Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory. Test tube studies have revealed that quercetin prevents immune cells from releasing histamines, which cause allergic reactions like hives.
Other studies have also shown that quercetin, a natural medicine and phytochemical, is as effective at fighting allergies as some prescription medications, all with little to no side effects.
A study published in the Journal Dermato-Endocrinology found that “low vitamin D status is probably associated with chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU)” and that “vitamin D supplements might improve symptoms and quality of life in CSU patients”.
If home and natural remedies aren’t enough to help your hives, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may be your best bet. Not only can OTC options relieve itching and irritation, they can target your body’s histamine response, which is what causes hives to appear.
Products containing calamine can help relieve itching by cooling your skin. You can apply calamine lotion directly to your skin:
- Make sure you mix the lotion before using it by shaking the container.
- Put some calamine lotion on a cotton pad or cloth.
- Apply the pad or cloth directly to the hives and let dry.
You can treat the hives with calamine lotion as necessary.
Benadryl is an oral antihistamine that can reduce the rash and other symptoms, like itching, by working from the inside out. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package. The medicine usually kicks in within an hour, and you should see symptom reduction the same day.
Benadryl may cause drowsiness.
Fexofenadine (Allegra) Loratadine (Claritin) and Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
These antihistamines typically come in 12- or 24-hour formulas to provide extended relief.
They’re also less likely to cause drowsiness than diphenhydramine.
You may need to adjust the dosage to effectively treat hives, so talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how much to take and how often.
If you get hives periodically, have some non-drowsly antihistamines on hand, so you can take one at the first sign. Any of the following brands will do the trick.
If you’re experiencing severe or chronic hives, prescription medication may be necessary.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and how you can best find relief.
Common prescription options include:
This corticosteroid is taken orally. You should only use it for a short period of time as directed by your doctor. Corticosteroids can have side effects, especially if taken for extended periods of time. Side effects can include:
- elevated blood pressure
- elevated eye pressure (glaucoma)
- weight gain
Long-term use can lead to:
- high blood sugar
- reduced hormone release from the adrenal glands
- poor immune response to pathogens so you can get infections easier
- thinning skin
To reduce side effects, take oral corticosteroids at a lower dose and transition to corticosteroid creams with your doctor’s supervision.
This antibiotic is available topically and as an oral medication. This medication can treat inflammation caused by hives or other skin conditions caused by bacterial infection.
I’m sure you know – it’s important to take all antibiotics prescribed.
This nonsteroidal treatment option is taken orally. These drugs should be used only after steroid treatment and antihistamines have been unsuccessful.
Common side effects are headache, stomach upset, cough, and a low fever.
This medication must be injected under the skin. This option is only available if your hives have lasted for months or years. Common side effects are headache, dizziness, inner ear pain, and cold symptoms.
When to See the Doctor
If your symptoms worsen or last longer than a couple of days, don’t panic; just go see your doctor.
Your physician will help you identify the cause and provide you with medication to help relieve your symptoms.
If you experience hives, you’re not alone. Also known as urticaria, hives affects about 20 percent of people at some time during their lives. Don’t scratch, drink alcohol or get stressed out – that can make it worse!
It can be triggered by many substances or situations and usually starts as an itchy patch of skin that turns into swollen red welts.
Don’t scratch, drink alcohol or get stressed out – that can make it worse!
If you can determine what your triggers are, you’ll be able to avoid the breakouts. Of course, many times the cause is idiopathic (unknown). Either way, the treatments focus on healing the itchy welts.
Start with the home remedies outlined above, and progress to over-the-counter products as necessary.
Give it a couple of days, at least, and if you don’t see improvement, see your doctor for a prescription.
Did I miss anything? Please share your hives tips.
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