Hives, or urticaria, are red, raised, itchy welts. They appear, sometimes in clusters, on the face, trunk of the body, and, less often, on the scalp, hands, or feet. Like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, hives can change shape, fade, then rapidly reappear. A single hive lasts less than 24 hours, but after an attack new ones may crop up for up to six weeks. According to estimates, nearly 20 percent of Americans will get hives at some time in their lives.
Hives can be (but aren’t always) an allergic response to something you touched, inhaled, or swallowed. Some common causes of hives include:
- Reactions to medications such as aspirin, sulfa, and penicillin.
- Animal dander (especially from cats).
- Cold temperatures.
- Emotional or physical stress (including exercise).
- Foods (especially chocolate, nuts, shellfish, or tomatoes).
- Inhalants (especially pollen, mold spores, or airborne chemicals).
- Insect bites.
- Rubbing or putting pressure on the skin.
- Exposure to chemicals.
- Malignant or connective tissue disease.
Sometimes, it is not known what causes hives. But if you can identify the triggers (try keeping a diary), you may be able to prevent future outbreaks.
Here are some tips for a case of ordinary, non-threatening hives:
- Don’t take hot baths or showers. Heat worsens most rashes and makes them itch more.
- Apply cold compresses or take a warm bath.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Relax as much as possible. Studies have shown that relaxation therapy and even hypnosis help ease the itching and discomfort of hives.
- Ask your doctor whether or not you should take an antihistamine and have him or her recommend one. Antihistamines can help relieve itching and suppress hives. (Keep in mind that antihistamines can cause drowsiness and may make it dangerous for you to drive or perform other tasks requiring alertness).
- Avoid taking aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. These may aggravate hives.
Questions to Ask
Do you have any of these problems?
Did hives start after recently taking a medication?
Do you have itching that is constant, and/or severe or do you have a fever?
Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism
© American Institute for Preventive Medicine