You may think hay fever is bad until you join the one in five Americans who get the skin version of an allergic attack. Doctors call it urticaria; laypeople call it hives. Sufferers often don’t say anything at all—they’re too busy trying not to scratch their itchy, red-spotted skin. Learn more about what causes hives and some common hive cures.
WHAT CAUSES HIVES?
What causes this maddening rash? In most cases, the culprit is something—last night’s dinner, a dusty room, your neighbor’s overly friendly dog—that stimulates an allergic reaction. “Most of the time, you can’t pinpoint the cause,” says Lawrence H. Bernstein, M.D., a former family doctor who is the medical director at Jewish Geriatric Services in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “That’s the maddening thing about hives. All kinds of things can trigger it.”
Whatever the cause, your immune system senses a hostile invader and kicks into overdrive. The first line of defense, of course, is the skin. Tiny blood vessels begin to leak a protein-rich,itch-causing fluid. It’s the buildup of fluid under the skin that makes the red dots characteristic of hives. Individual welts rarely last more than a day or two at a time, although the rash can move around your skin for weeks. Some people with chronic urticaria even suffer from skin rashes for months.
Your skin, being the sensitive organ that it is, sometimes doesn’t need an allergy-causing substance to bring up a rash. A job interview, a first date, or an argument with your teenage daughter—any form of emotional stress—can set you to itching. A hot summer day, a chilly morning on the ski slopes, fever, a few cocktails, premenstrual syndrome, or problems with your thyroid can make a mild attack of hives seem almost unbearable.
Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch in searching for a remedy. Our Yankee doctors offer some time-tested solutions for hive cures.
Treat the Allergy
“The antihistamine Benadryl is our first line of defense when it comes to hive cures,” says Stephen Blair, M.D., a pediatrician in private practice in Claremont, New Hampshire. “You can buy it over the counter in any drugstore. In most cases, it’ll make your hives go away in two to four days. If you’re still suffering, see your doctor about a prescription for Atarax, an anti-anxiety drug that’s also a powerful antihistamine.”
Stay Cool While You Soak
“Take a cool or lukewarm bath to relieve the itching of hives,” says Kathryn A. Zug, M.D., a dermatologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. “Avoid taking your usual hot shower. The skin of some people gets itchier from the beating of hot water against it.”
Or Go for the Big Chill
Some hive cures are downright cool. “Ice massage is a marvelous thing for hives,” says Brewster Martin, M.D., a retired family doctor in Chelsea, Vermont. Wrap several ice cubes in a clean cloth and stroke it slowly and gently against the rash. “The cold will send a mild pain message to your brain,” Dr.Martin says. “Itching is carried on the same nerves as pain, so the ice will disrupt the itching message.”
Get a Cold Foot
Here’s a great way to cool down your itches, according to Dr. Martin: Fill a clean tube sock with uncooked rice, sew the sock shut, and put it in the freezer for two hours. Then hold the cold pack against your rash. The chilly rice is reusable, and it won’t melt—making it less messy than ice.
Hives from food allergies are common. Although it’s often difficult to find the cause of hives, some experimentation is worth the effort if you’re suffering from frequent rashes. Keep a food diary and consult it to see what you’ve eaten the day before a skin reaction. Common causes are eggs, wheat, shellfish, soy, peanuts, and milk.
Pitch the Rubber
Ironically, the latex gloves that you use to protect your hands when you do the dishes can cause allergic skin reactions, say researchers. Hives and other skin problems are increasing among hospital workers, who must use latex gloves often. If you find yourself getting rashes after wearing latex, buy gloves lined with cotton or use vinyl gloves as an alternative. Both are available at most pharmacies.
Excerpt fromHome Remedies from a Country Doctor, brought to you by Skyhorse Publishing.
Do you have any tips for hive cures? Let us know below.