Say you’re dining on an exquisite meal of shrimp etoufee with your very attractive significant other when suddenly you feel a burning, itchy sensation on your skin. Red patches begin to spread across your chest and your lips start to swell. Yup, you have hives. Now what?
First of all, don’t worry – hives probably won’t force you to end your date prematurely, as most cases go away quickly on their own or are easily treated with over-the-counter medication. Hives are a common condition most often caused by allergic reaction or your body’s attempt to fight off a viral infection. Approximately 20 percent of the population will experience hives at some point in their lives, so there is a decent chance that Angelique will understand what you’re going through. Read on for advice on how to treat hives and relieve their symptoms. However, you’re on your own when it comes to advice on how to get a second date with Angelique. She’s a keeper.
What are Hives?
Hives (known by the medical term “urticaria”) is a common skin condition that causes itchy red or white bumps, welts or patches that can range in size from the tip of a pen to as big as a dinner plate. In addition to itching, hives sometimes cause burning or a stinging sensation. They can occur anywhere on the skin; some cases cover the entire body, while others remain confined to a specific area. Hives can also cause swelling of the lips, tongue and eyelids, as well as difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Common Causes of Hives
- Food allergies
- Viral infection
- Skin irritation caused by lotions or cosmetics
- Nickel jewelry
- Insect bites or stings
- Exposure to extreme temperatures
- Sunlight (in rare cases)
Two Categories of Hives: Acute and Chronic
Acute hives last up to six weeks, though many cases go away within 24 hours. Acute hives are most often caused a viral infection or allergic reaction. Some of the most common allergens that have been known to cause hives include nuts, shellfish, seeds, milk, soy, latex (such as gloves and condoms), medications, nickel jewelry and beauty products (lotions, cosmetics, face creams, etc.).
Chronic hives last six weeks or more, or go away and recur frequently. The exact cause of chronic hives is difficult to pinpoint and often goes undiagnosed. However, in some cases chronic hives have been linked to autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease or lupus. Only an estimated 5 to 10 percent of cases of chronic hives are caused by allergies, and most of those cases are related to an allergy to cats, dogs or other pets.
Examples of Hives
Quick fix for hives:
A cold compress is the easiest (and cheapest!) way to get immediate relief from hives. Put a wet washcloth or small towel in the freezer for a few minutes to get it extra cold (but don’t let it freeze) and then place it on the affected area. If that requires too much patience, you can just rub ice cubes directly on the hives instead.
Effective Ways to Treat Hives
Take an over-the-counter antihistamine. In many instances, hives caused by an allergic reaction will disappear on their own within a few hours. For quicker relief, take an over-the-counter antihistamine to fight the effects of the allergy. Antihistamines can also lessen the severity of an allergic reaction and prevent hives from affecting additional parts of the body. Diphenhydramine, a type of antihistamine, is considered to be the most effective at treating hives. Diphenhydramine goes by the brand name Benadryl, but there are also generic equivalents. Be sure to always follow the recommended dosage and instructions listed on the medicine’s label. Most antihistamines cause some drowsiness, so it’s best to take them before bed if possible.
Soak in a lukewarm oatmeal bath. Hives can cause unbearable itching, but the natural oils and nutrients found in oatmeal can change the pH of the skin to reduce itchiness and inflammation. You can purchase an oatmeal bath solution, such as Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment or Avalon Clear Oatmeal Anti-Itch Bath Soak, at many retailers or online. However, it is easy and more affordable to make your own. Just grind 1 cup of oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it is a fine powder, then sprinkle the oat powder into running bathwater (do this gradually to avoid clumps). Soak in the oatmeal bath for up to 20 minutes. For babies or small children, use 1/3 cup of oats. Hot water can irritate hives, so keep the bathwater at a moderate temperature.
Apply aloe vera to the affected area. If you’ve ever had a bad sunburn, chances are you are already aware of aloe vera’s ability to soothe and moisturize ailing skin. Applying aloe vera gel, cream or extract to your hives will help relieve itching and inflammation, and it also gives your skin a pleasant cool feeling. Aloe vera is a natural ingredient and its mild, earthy odor is generally preferred over the clinical smell of other medicated creams. That being said, aloe vera is not the only typical product that can relieve itching. Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and milk of magnesia can all provide relief when applied directly to the skin.
Consult a doctor if the hives persist or recur frequently. If your hives last more than six weeks, or if they come and go frequently, you should get checked out by a doctor. You may want to consult your primary care doctor (general practitioner) before seeking out a specialist. Your doctor will likely ask numerous questions about the hives (How long have you had them? Are they painful? Do they itch?). Based on your answers, she might prescribe medication or run a few tests. If needed, your doctor will refer to you to an allergist or dermatologist in order to determine the specific cause of your hives and the best course of treatment.
If the hives are accompanied by more serious symptoms, go to the emergency room. Hives are rarely serious and most cases do not need medical attention. However, an individual suffering from hives should still be monitored for signs of a more severe allergic reaction, especially if that person has never experienced hives before. Watch for symptoms such as throat tightness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, persistent vomiting, chest pains and extreme light-headedness. If any of those signs are present and appear to be getting worse, head to the nearest ER or call 911. It is common for hives to cause some swelling; however, you should consult a doctor if the swelling does not go down within a few hours and does not respond to an antihistamine, or if you experience extreme swelling of the hands, feet, arms or face.
Natural Remedies for Hives
Aloe vera. Applying fresh aloe vera extract or aloe vera gel to the affected area will reduce itchiness and inflammation. Aloe vera also promotes the growth and regeneration of skin tissue.
Milk of magnesia. Dip a cotton ball in milk of magnesia and then dab it over the hives to relieve itching.
Cayenne pepper. Drink a 6-ounce glass of water mixed with 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to detoxify your body and promote the healing of hives and other skin conditions. (Note: Some might find this concoction too spicy.) Taking cayenne pepper supplements or capsules can also help, although they do not provide immediate relief.