What are Hives?

Skin allergic reactions are common ailments that trouble people a great deal. But, before understanding the real cause behind the allergic reactions, we must focus on what are hives, actually?

Hives (also known as urticaria) are harmless skin allergic reactions that look more like mosquito bites. Hives are generally seen in clusters and they keep changing their shape and location as well. Hives may disappear after few hours of making their appearance and then reappear on some other part of the body.

Symptoms of Hives

Hives are raised skin welts that are mostly red or pale in color. They are found in clusters and often change their appearance and locations, as discussed above. Hives are associated with burning sensation or are very itchy.

They blanche in color when pressed at the centre. Severe scratching is known to aggravate the condition of hives. They are generally located on arms, legs, torso, and back and sometimes on the face and even on the tongue. If hives persist more than 6 weeks, then the condition is called as chronic hives.

Sometimes, the condition of hives can really worsen. A person may suffer from severe swelling of face and tongue which can constrict the food pipe also. In such cases, the problem is compounded by breathlessness that can result owing to hives. A person may even choke at food while swallowing or suffer from unnecessary stress due to severe swelling on the face.

Though hives are mostly harmless, in such situations it is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor.

Causes of Hives

As has been discussed earlier, hives is an allergic skin reaction that can be triggered by any allergen which has come in contact with the person. But, why do hives appear at all?

The answer to this question comes from the fact that our body has an auto immune response system that gets triggered off if it encounters a prospective allergen. There is an immediate production of IgE antibodies in the blood stream which eventually get attached to the mast cells on the skin surface. These mast cells then begin to produce histamines. Histamines in the blood trigger off skin allergic responses as seen in hives.

The allergen that could have triggered the onset of hives can be eggs, chocolates, soy, shellfish etc. Certain food additives such as food colors, additives can also create an allergic reaction like hives. Identifying the food allergen that might have triggered the allergic reaction is in fact very difficult. Medical practitioners try to carry out a diet history and related family history of the patient to determine what could have led the hives rash to occur.

Other allergens are wasp and insect bites that also might result in hives rash. People are commonly allergic to cat’s dander. If you are suffering from hives, then you might consider having a look at your neighborhood for cats. Animal dander is a common skin allergen triggering hives rash.

Apart from these allergens, one of the most common factors that are known to trigger hives are drugs and medications. It has been known for a long time that sulfa drugs, aspirin, penicillin etc trigger hives rash on the skin. If you are consuming any drugs and find that there is a hives reaction on the skin, then it is advisable to stop using that drug altogether.

Emotional stress and mental depression triggers the production of unhealthy cortisols in the blood stream. As a result, there is excessive production of histamines on the skin surface which trigger hives on the skin.

Some people are also allergic to tight garments and may end up getting hives. Extreme cold or hot climates are known to trigger hives. People who have sweat a great deal may also get hives.

Treatment of Hives

Milder forms of hives disappear on their own. In most of the cases, the actual causative factor is not even identified and everything returns back to normality.

But if the hives condition, despite anti-histamine drugs persist, then one must seek the advice of a doctor.

Hives can be treated by administering anti-histamine drugs such as Benadryl. Benadryl is easily available over-the-counter and carries no side-effects. However, Benadryl can be made a person sleepy and drowsy. Doctors may replace this anti-histamine with non-sleep inducing medication such as Cetrizine, Claritin etc. In milder forms of hives, application of milk of magnesia is found to be very effective. It is the presence of zinc in the mixture that is known to have healing powers.

In severe cases of hives, a medical practitioner administers steroids or gives oral administration of corticosterones. These steroids try to regulate the levels of histamine in the blood stream and considerably reduce the associated itching or burning sensation.

When the condition of the patient is very critical and he/she has the face swollen, is unable to breathe and even chokes, then it is advisable to rush for doctor advice.

Injectible solutions of epinephrine are administered in the patient’s blood stream to lower the levels of histamine.

There are effective home-made natural remedies to cure the condition of hives. Sipping nerve-calming teas are known to be very effective in case of stress-induced hives. Tea prepared from boiling leaves and bark of rosemary, chamomile or Red Alder tea is found to be extremely effective to soothe the nerves down.

While tackling the problem of hives, one must first eliminate the allergen that might have triggered the allergic reaction in the body. Apart from that, avoid wearing tight fitting clothes as pressure urticaria is again a common problem among patients.

One must not take very hot showers or cold showers if suffering from hives. These practices simply make the matters worse. If the weather permits, one must take a comfortable cool shower and pat the affected area dry instead of rubbing it hard.

Follow it up with gentle application of Calamine lotions that dry the skin away and enhance the healing process.