Have you ever had red, raised, itchy bumps that came out of no where? If the answer is “yes,” then you likely have already experienced hives at some point in your life. Hives can really startle you when they suddenly appear on your skin. Most often they are due to some type of allergic reaction. Thankfully, they’re typically not long lasting and relatively harmless. But, sometimes hives can indicate a life-threatening allergic reaction, or they can become chronic. (1)
How do you get hives? Hives are not something you can “catch” from anyone. Rather, they are your body’s response to something it ingests or experiences. The cause of hives can be a certain food, drug, infection or stress. You might be surprised to learn that stress is one of the most common causes of acute hives, along with allergies and infectious causes. Hives can literally occur at any age and appear anywhere on the body. It is estimated that one in every five people will be affected by a hives outbreak at some point in his or her life. (2)
Do you know the causes and symptoms of hives? It’s helpful to know both so that you can avoid hives, or recognize them if they do appear on yourself or a loved one. Conventional hives treatment comes with the possibility of unwanted side effects. Why not choose a natural hives treatment? Nobody likes walking around with bumps or welts on their skin. Let’s talk about how to avoid hives, how to identify hives and how to treat hives naturally.
What are Hives?
Urticaria, or hives, are red bumps that suddenly appear on your skin. Do hives itch? Yes, hives can be itchy. They can also sting or burn. What do hives look like? The appearance of hives can vary depending on the person and the cause. Hives often appear as swollen, pale or dark red bumps that are either tiny. They also can be larger and interconnected, forming welts. Sometimes the welts can merge together forming larger plaques. These plaques be as large as a dinner plate in size! (3)
How long do hives last? Mild hives can appear suddenly and be completely gone a few minutes later. Other times, hives can last for hours and even several weeks to months. Acute episodes of urticaria last for six weeks or less. Hives that last for six weeks or less are acute hives. Those that remain for more than six weeks are chronic hives. It’s nice to know that the majority of hives cases don’t last longer than 24 hours. (4)
Common Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of hives can include: (5)
- Swelling of the surface of the skin into red or skin-colored welts (called wheals) with clearly defined edges.
- Wheals are typically round or oval and can get bigger, spread, and join together to form larger areas of flat, raised skin.
- Wheals can also change shape, disappear, and reappear within minutes or hours.
- You know you have hives when you press the center of a wheal and it turns white. This is called blanching.
Hives can appear on any area of the body, especially on the trunk, thighs, upper arms and face.
Causes and Risk Factors
What causes hives? Hives are typically caused by an allergic reaction. The allergy can be to a food or medication. When your body is allergic to something, it can release chemicals that make your skin develop hives. An infection or emotional stress can also cause hives.
When hives are caused by an allergic reaction, your skin can break out within minutes of exposure to the allergen. Some common allergens that can cause hives include: (6)
- Certain foods, especially food allergies to shellfish, tree nuts, milk, and some fruit
- Medications, especially antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen.
- Allergy shots
- Pets and other animals
- Insect bites and stings
When hives occur due to an allergy, high levels of histamine and other chemical messengers are released into the skin. These substances cause your blood vessels to open up. This often results in pinkness or redness, as well as extra fluid in the tissues, which causes swelling and itching. (7)
Sometimes someone may have allergy hives and other times a hives breakout has nothing to do with allergies. Hives can also result from one of the following: (8,9)
- Stress or anxiety
- Excessive perspiration
- Infections such as mononucleosis
- Viruses (viral hives)
- Illness, including lupus, autoimmune diseases, leukemia
- Extreme cold or sun exposure
- Contact with chemicals
- Pressure on the skin
Hives resulting from physical causes, like pressure, cold, or sun exposure, are called physical hives. Heat urticaria or heat hives are caused by an increase in body temperature from things like hot showers or baths, spicy foods or exercise. Sometimes hives occur due to unknown causes. This is known as idiopathic urticaria. Hives can also become a chronic problem. (10)
When a small child gets hives, it’s almost always due to an allergy. Hives on a baby, or hives on a toddler, can be particularly disturbing. Many parents wonder how can you tell hives vs rash. There is a quick skin test called “wheal and flare” that can help confirm whether or not it’s hives. According to Jon McCullers, M.D., pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, if your child has a big red patch on his or her skin and you see swelling (that’s the “wheal”), drag a fingernail over the area and if you see a brighter redness (“flare”) then it’s an allergic reaction. (11)
The majority of the time, a doctor will know that you have hives just by looking at your skin. To get to the root of your hives, a doctor also, hopefully, will ask you about any recent life stressors, or exposure to possible or known allergens. If a patient complains of itchiness, he or she will often recommend diphenhydramine. Common side effects of antihistamines include drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth/nose/throat, upset stomach, increased appetite and weight gain, thickening of mucus, vision changes and feeling nervous, excited or irritable. (12)
When hives are severe, some doctors may suggest a course of oral steroids. Some common side effects of oral steroids include acne, blurred vision, cataracts or glaucoma, easy bruising, difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure, increased appetite and weight gain, increased growth of body hair, insomnia, lower resistance to infection, muscle weakness, nervousness, osteoporosis, stomach irritation or bleeding, sudden mood swings, puffy face, water retention, swelling and worsening of diabetes. (13)
When hives become chronic, a patient will likely be referred to a dermatologist and/or an allergy specialist for further investigation.
9 Natural Remedies for Hives Treatment
Let’s talk about the best part of this article — how to get rid of hives naturally, as well as how to prevent them in the first place!
1. Be Patient and Don’t Irritate
Hives treatment may not be needed if hives are mild. If you wait a short time, they can disappear on their own without any intervention. If you want to do something to help them go away faster and to reduce itching and swelling, make sure that you do not take any hot baths or showers while you have hives. Also, avoid wearing any tight-fitting clothing because this can further irritate the area where you have hives. (14) This all applies to babies or toddlers with hives as well. Make sure you don’t bathe a child with hives in water that is too hot and keep their clothing loose-fitting and breathable.
2. Address Allergies
First off, if you think you know what caused your hives, then avoid further contact or consumption with whatever it is. If you suspect that your hives are being caused by a particular food you’re eating or a certain pet you currently have in your home, then it is a good idea to get some allergy testing done. Allergy testing can reveal your hive triggers, which you can then avoid (as much as possible) and you can greatly prevent the likelihood of another undesirable hives rash. (15) Keeping a food diary can also help a hive sufferer to pinpoint any food allergies.
3. Calm the Inflammation
To calm hives and help them vanish that much quicker, make sure you’re not using any products on your body that will only make the inflammation and itching worse. You don’t want to be using anything harsh on your body right now. This includes soaps and other body care products, as well as the detergent you use on your clothing. Opt for natural products free of unhealthy synthetic fragrances and other aggravating ingredients. Another simple way to calm hives is to take a cool bath or shower. You can also use a cool compress on the hives to help relieve any itching. (16)
4. Oatmeal Bath
Natural hives treatment can come in the form of a calming oatmeal bath. Simply add a cup or two of uncooked oats into a stocking or cheesecloth. Tie it up with a rubber band so the oats can’t leak out. Put the oats under the running water as your bath fills up. Your bath will be infused with oatmeal’s skin-calming goodness. Oats are known for their ability to calm skin inflammation, thanks to their naturally high salicylic acid content. Taking an oatmeal bath for hives can help calm these unwanted eruptions for both adults and children. Just make sure the water is warm — not too hot or too cold — since temperature extremes can just make hives worse. (17)
5. Stress Reduction
Can stress cause hives? The answer is definitely “yes.” Hives and stress can go hand-in-hand. When you experience excessive short or long term stress, it takes a toll on body’s immune system. Since the stress is throwing off your immune system, your body responds by internally sending out histamine to fend off your current health problem, which in this case is stress. Histamine release doesn’t make stress go away, but it can cause hives to start popping up in various places. Basically, this is an allergic reaction to stress and your body is sending out visible signals (hives) to let you know that it’s time to chill out. (18)
The very best way to get rid of stress hives is to remove as much stress from your life as possible. There are so many effective ways to reduce stress on a daily basis. Find what works best for you and make it a part of your routine. Exercise is always one of my stress boosters. Other great ideas for stress hives treatment, and hives treatment in general, include yoga, massage, journaling and prayer.
6. Baking Soda
Making a paste of baking soda and water can help to calm hives and also prevent new ones from popping up. Baking soda is known as nahcolite, which is part of the natural mineral natron. Natron contains large amounts of sodium bicarbonate. It has been used since ancient times as a soother and cleanser. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda with some cold water to create a paste and then rub it on the affected area. Let it dry completely before washing it off. You can do this a few times a day, if needed. Relief is typically immediate from this easy hives treatment.
7. Witch Hazel
Dabbing witch hazel on hives several times per day while hives are present can help to calm the inflammation and itching. Witch hazel is a skin-healing liquid with strong antioxidant and astringent properties. You can also try my recipe that includes witch hazel, along with many other natural anti-hive ingredients: DIY Rash Cream with Aloe & Lavender.
Quercetin and evening primrose are two supplements for hives that will calm and get rid of your hives faster. (19) 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. (20) 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. (21) Other supplement recommendations include vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D and fish oil. (22)
Acupuncture is another option for natural hives treatment, especially for chronic hives. It is a holistic health technique that stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. Trained practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles into the skin. When it comes to hives, acupuncture aims to provide immediate relief from the swelling and itching. Acupuncture also tries to get to the root of the hives, including any underlying imbalances or triggers that are causing the hives. Some common acupuncture points for hives include Spleen 10 (SP 10) and Large Intestine 11 (LI 11). One double-blind study placebo-controlled study treated 40 patients with chronic urticaria using either real acupuncture or “sham acupuncture” for three weeks. The subjects treated with real acupuncture experienced partial remissions of symptoms after three weeks. The effectiveness of the acupuncture treatments appeared to increase with each additional treatment. (22)
Seek urgent medical attention for yourself or your child if hives are severe and/or cover a large area of your body, or if you have other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or a fever. Chronic urticaria or chronic hives should be evaluated by an allergist or immunologist to determine proper hives treatment.
Angioedema is a similar skin issue to hives, but it usually last longer than hives. Swelling is under the skin instead of on the surface. With angioedema, a person typically has deep swelling around the eyes and lips and, sometimes, of the genitals, hands and feet. In rare cases, angioedema of the throat, tongue, or lungs can block the airways, making it hard to breathe. This can be life threatening. (23)
In rare cases, hives or angioedema can be early symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention. If you suspect you are having an anaphylactic reaction, seek urgent medical treatment. Without proper treatment, anaphylaxis can be deadly.
Always check with your doctor before using any natural remedies if you are taking medication or being treated for any ongoing health condition(s).
Hives are an unpleasant inflammatory skin condition that 20 percent of the population will experience at some point in time. Thankfully, hives typically are not serious. With some simple natural remedies, you can calm a hives outbreak on yourself or your child quite quickly. Inexpensive, common household items like oatmeal, witch hazel and baking soda are really effective at calming the itching and redness that usually accompany hives. If your child experiences hives, you should make sure you aren’t using any harsh body care products on his or her skin. You should also avoid hot baths and tight-fitting clothes. I hope that you won’t experience hives anytime soon, but if you do, a natural hives treatment will really come in handy.