Hives are also known as urticaria in the medical word. It is an outbreak of pale red wheals on the skin. They may be itchy or painful, with a burning or stinging feeling, or they may not otherwise be noticeable to the person who has them. It might be a response to an allergy or some other unknown cause. But before being able to rid yourself of them there are some key things you need to know about them first.
Where do Hives Occur
Many people assume that hives occur on the trunk of the body or on the limbs. However, these are common areas for hices to form, but they can actually appear anywhere on the body, including these areas and the face, lips, and eyes. Some of the remedies for treating hives are safe to use on all areas of the body they might appear, while others should only be used in specific areas. Make sure you know which areas are safe to use a specific treatment before continuing.
How Long do Hives Last
One common question is how long do hives occur, and when can you expect them to go away. Sometimes they may last a couple of hours, while others may result in them lasting for days. A lot of it has to do with the cause of the hives, and whether or not the body continues to be exposed to anything that has caused it or not. Hives can also vary greatly in size, and often form together in groups. Hives may begin small and several of them in an area, and as more form in the area they begin to resemble a single larger hive known as plagues. While not always the case, larger plaques may take longer to disappear than smaller hives do. Hives caused by stress often take longer to treat and to subside as they are not a result of an allergic reaction, and are from a significant amount of stress that needs to be relieved in order to see a significant improvement.
Causes of Acute Hives
Acute hives are usually a result of allergic hives, and last less than six weeks; however, they may not be from an allergic response. Some of the most common food culprits for triggering hives include nuts, fish, eggs, chocolate, and dairy. Some preservatives and food enhancers can also trigger hives to form. Food that had been eaten previously may cause hives later on without warning, especially if the first time being exposed to the food it was cooked and following times it was not cooked. This is because when food is cooked it is often altered, and the body is often times less likely to react to it than in the raw form. Similarly, medications can also cause acute hives to occur. Some of the most common culprits include pain medications and antibiotics; however, any medication has the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Lastly, hives caused by stress may be acute, if they occur for less than six weeks, but have the potential to progress longer.
Causes of Chronic Hives
Chronic hives are those which last for a period of six weeks or longer. These cases of hives are often time harder to identify the cause, as exposure is often been over a longer period of time, and it is not easy to identify the item as it is with something newly introduced to the person. Hives caused by stress have the potential to be chronic hives if the stress in a person’s life is not reduced in a timely manner and it progresses longer. Chronic hives are also commonly a result of other underlying medical conditions which need to be addressed, including types of infections, thyroid disorders, certain types of cancer, and possibly hepatitis. The only way to rule these illnesses out is to see your physician for a complete evaluation and lab work. Chronic hives can also be more concerning because the prolonged effects of them on other organs in the body can be experienced, like a person’s ability to breathe or digest food properly.
Treatment of Hives
The most common form of treatment for hives is the use of an antihistamine, which can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a doctor. This helps the body to stop producing histamines which can trigger hives. However, in order for the hives to not return, it is important to make sure the person is not continuously exposed to the source of the reaction. This may mean eliminating new foods or medications which the person has recently been exposed to, or it may require some basic lab work to rule out environmental allergies that can cause hives to form. If antihistamines do not provide relief from hives, a doctor can prescribe steroids to help speed up the healing process. The steroid will help to reduce the inflammation and the wheals will begin to subside. If hives are so severe that they are disrupting a person’s ability to breath or swallow, and injection of epinephrine may be required from your physician or the emergency department for them to resolve. Because hives caused by stress are not a result of an allergic reaction, they may not respond to antihistamines even though it is your body’s “allergic reaction” to significant stress. They may initially respond to steroid treatment, but if the stress continues they could reappear after a period of time.
Reduce Life Stressors
The best way to relieve hives brought on by stress is to help reduce the amount of stressors in your life. If you have gone through significant life changes, as you adjust to them your hives may likely subside. However, if stressors will continue to be present in your life, they may continue for an extended period of time. As your body responds to stress, your immune system struggles to function properly, and responds by producing the hives. Getting adequate sleep regularly, eating healthy foods, and engaging in regular exercise is one way to help your body to minimize stress. Making time to relax, such as engaging in meditation, yoga, massage, or a hobby you enjoy will also help you to relax better and reduce your body’s response to stress.
While Waiting for Hives to Subside
There are some home remedies which can be done while waiting for the antihistamine to take affect. One thing is to wear loose clothing. This will help to reduce the friction on the skin, and help to keep sweat from sitting on the skin, making the skin feel less irritated. Secondly, you can try to remain cool. Use cold compresses on the skin. Sit in front of a fan, or sit in air conditioning. All of these will help to reduce sweat on the skin and help to cool the hives which can have a stinging feeling. However, if possible, do not use excessive heat to treat hives. Heat can actually cause the inflammation of the skin to worsen instead of improving. If you are experiencing a significant amount of itching with your hives, consider making a paste out of baking soda and water. Apply it to the area affected by the hives and allow it to dry. Then rinse it off with lukewarm water. This can be done a few times a day, and will not interact with any medications you may be taking. Lastly, you can take an oatmeal bath to help relieve the itching. Take a cup of dry oatmeal and put it in lukewarm bath water. Do not use hot water as it can make the hives worse instead of better. Stir the water gently, and then allow it to sit for a few minutes before soaking in the tub. If you want an easier way to clean up an oatmeal bath, you can place the oatmeal in an old pair of nylon stockings and tie the end of it. Let it soak in the water for a few minutes before getting into the tub.
When to Go to the Emergency Department
Usually hives are not life threatening, but there are rare occurrences when they can obstruct a person’s ability to breath or swallow. If this is the case, you should immediately go to the emergency room the nearest hospital. Otherwise, you can simply treat hives at home with the mentioned home remedies and an over the counter antihistamine. If they improve in a few day, you should be fine. But if they continue to persist, it may be necessary to contact your physician for a general office visit to obtain a prescription for an oral steroid to help speed up the healing process. Also, if you suspect that it is your medication causing your hives to appear, you should immediately call your doctor’s office to consult with them on whether or not you should continue to take the medication or not. They might prescribe you a different drug entirely to ensure you are not going to have a greater allergic reaction which could prove to be more serious.