31. You Can Head Off Hives

No one ever forgets the times they broke out in hives – just before a big date as a teen or after eating a terrific lobster dinner. Well, if you remember episodes like those, you’re not alone. According to estimates, nearly 20 percent of Americans will endure at least one bout with hives some time in their lives.

Hives, or urticaria, are red, raised, itchy welts. They appear sometimes in clusters on the face, trunk of the body and, less frequently, 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.

Hives can be (but aren’t always) an allergic response to something you touched, inhaled, or swallowed.

Some common causes of hives include:

  1. Side effects of medications, such as aspirin, sulfa, and penicillin.

  2. Animal dander (especially from cats).

  3. Cold temperatures.

  4. Emotional or physical stress (including exercise).

  5. Foods (especially chocolate, nuts, shellfish, or tomatoes).

  6. Infections.

  7. Inhalants (especially pollen, mold spores, or airborne chemicals).

  8. Insect bites.

  9. Rubbing or putting pressure on the skin.

  10. 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. That’s important because while most hives simply itch and don’t usually cause other problems, the swelling associated with a serious case of hives can be deadly. If the tongue and throat swell shut, you can’t breathe; if your heart, respiratory system, or digestive system becomes involved and you don’t get treatment, it can be fatal.

Here are some tips for a case of ordinary, non-threatening hives.

  1. Avoid hot baths or showers. Heat worsens most rashes and makes them itch more.

  2. Apply cold compresses or take a warm bath. Add an oatmeal product (brand name Aveeno) or one cup of baking soda to the bath water.

  3. Wear loose-fitting clothing.

  4. Relax as much as possible. Studies have shown that relaxation therapy and even hypnosis help ease the itching and discomfort of hives.

  5. Apply calamine lotion to itchy areas.

  6. Don’t take aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoproxen, or naproxen. These may worsen hives.

  7. Ask your doctor to recommend an antihistamine. Antihistamines can help relieve itching and suppress hives. (Keep in mind that antihistamines cause drowsiness and may make it dangerous for you to drive or perform other tasks requiring alertness.)

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems