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Endless Itch: Dealing With Chronic Hives

Endless Itch: Dealing With Chronic Hives

By Kristen M. Leccese & Dr. Millie Lytle, ND

If you’re like a lot of normal, healthy people, you’ve suffered at least one allergic reaction in your lifetime; itchy eyes and nose, hives, swelling (angioedema) and trouble breathing are just a few symptoms of an acute allergic reaction. Usually, your doctor will perform allergy tests and let you know exactly what’s causing your symptoms. Common allergies include certain foods like shellfish, dairy and nuts, dust and mold, pet dander, prescription and OTC medications, and dyes and preservatives in foods. Once the allergen is identified and eliminated, symptoms will most likely subside.

Unfortunately, in some cases, a specific allergen can’t be identified. In many cases, mine included, individuals go through endless rounds of allergy tests without discovering an actual cause of their recurring hives. Personally, I have been tested for absolutely every allergen under the sun – contact allergies like dust, every type of food allergy, and even serious autoimmune conditions like lupus, thyroid disease and diabetes. Every single test came up negative; yet, I still got hives almost every single day. I wasn’t dealing with a spotty, rash-like hive condition, either – these were very large, swollen welts that would form and merge together throughout the day and night to the point where my entire body was covered. There were a few occasions when I developed anaphylaxis, or swelling in the throat, making it difficult to breathe and landing me in the Emergency Room more than once. Still, the doctors couldn’t find a single underlying cause for my severe allergies.

Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria

HIVES GRAPHICAfter nearly a year of daily hive outbreaks, my allergist diagnosed my condition as “Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria.” In plain English, this means that I simply “get hives.” There is no identifiable cause, and I had no choice but to learn to live with it. Within a few months of dealing with my condition, I began to pinpoint certain things that made the hives significantly worse. Excessive pressure on the skin, tight clothes, extreme temperature changes, alcohol and certain drink mixers, specific medications (aspirin, ibuprofen and NSAIDS), lack of sleep, dehydration, and even sitting in the same position or crossing my legs for too long were just some of the triggers I noticed. By keeping track of these triggers, I’ve since been able to keep the hives under control.

Be careful! Many prescription drugs can cause nutrient depletions. Here’s what you need to know!

I also learned that chronic hives are much more common that I thought! So, for any of you suffering from the same condition – trust me, you’re not alone. Here are some of my personal tips for anyone dealing with chronic hives:

  • Keep track of your triggers! Keep a diary of what you’re eating and drinking every day, as well as any medications you’re taking, and make notes when your hives worsen or subside. You’ll likely begin to notice a pattern, making it easier to avoid foods, medicines or anything else that makes your hives worse.
  • Avoid tight clothes, shoes and “itchy” materials (i.e., fuzzy sweaters) as much as you can. Of course this isn’t the easiest task, especially for us ladies – but it is possible. Be creative! For me, the pressure of tight jeans and high boots was too much to bear – I’d come home every day with huge welts all over my lower legs and around my torso. So I switched to low ankle boots, looser cotton leggings and loose blazers or jackets. It made a huge difference without doing too much damage to my personal style.
  • Keep extra layers of clothing around for sudden temperature changes – don’t let yourself get too cold or too warm. For me and many others, hives worsen significantly when the seasons change.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water to flush out your system – this will usually help flush out the hives, too.
  • Try to eat fresh foods as much as possible – avoid preservatives. They simply aren’t good for your overall health; therefore, they aren’t good for your hives.
  • Avoid alcohol as much as possible. If you are going to drink, keep it simple – beware of complicated cocktails and drink mixers. You never really know what you’re drinking when you order specialty cocktails at the bar. In my case, the additives and dyes have triggered some terrible outbreaks.
  • Red Bull gives you wings – and hives. Caffeine products raise the adrenaline level in your body, which leads to elevated histamine levels. Those of us with chronic hives already have too much histamine running through our systems, so caffeinated drinks aren’t the best choice.
  • Don’t smoke. If you’re a smoker, all your efforts to remedy your condition are basically reversed by all the awful chemicals in cigarettes.

Dr. Millie Lytle, ND gave me some excellent information and insight on the natural side of curing hives.
Read her excellent all-natural tips for dealing with chronic hives right here:

What are some of the underlying causes of chronic hives and repeated allergic reactions?

The medical term for hives is urticaria, from the Latin word “urtica.” It’s named after the plant nettle, a plant that stings and leaves behind a trail of itchy, red bumps. A hive is a type of allergic reaction characterized by an immune response that creates a “wheal and flare” reaction on the skin.  A wheal is a raised red or white bump with a red base. The flare indicates a histamine reaction from white blood cells in the skin that cause itching and swelling due to an accumulation of immune fluid. Hives are a hypersensitivity reaction and generally are preceded by exposure to an otherwise benign substance or chemical such as food, air or the environment. These triggers might come in contact with the skin, become ingested by mouth, or inhaled. Common agents that cause hives are plants in the ragweed family such as chamomile, pollens, grasses, mold, dust mites, tobacco, and even healthy foods such as shellfish, peanuts, sesame seeds, potatoes, pineapple and citrus. Some people are sensitive to temperature and might react to heat, hot water or even to their own sweat. Hives typically come with exposure and leave after the trigger is gone. Hives that stay longer than six weeks are considered a chronic problem.

What natural remedies would you suggest to alleviate the symptoms of hives?

In order to discuss what nutrients alleviate hives, we consider the homeopathic principles of “like cures like” (sometimes compared to the vaccine principle). This principle says that a substance that causes disease in large doses, can treat or cure that same illness in small doses.

Vitamin C and its bioflavonoids such as quercetin, rutin and hesperidin are some of the best natural anti-histamines, reducing the wheal and flare reaction. In addition to lemons and pink grapefruit, other foods rich in bioflavonoids are onions and garlics, orange and red peppers, tropical fruits such as mangosteen and pineapple, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and brussel sprouts, and the powerhouse herb, green tea. As I mentioned earlier, nettle or Urtica dioica, is a plant that stings and can leave behind a trail of itchy, red bumps. Ironically, nettle is one of the best treatments of allergic hives, as it reduces inflammation and swelling and allows you to urinate more often, clearing inflammation metabolites through the kidneys. It also helps with other allergy symptoms such as red and itchy eyes, asthma. Nettle happens to be a traditional blood tonic, helping to reduce ‘heat in the blood’, a cause of hives and other red skin problems according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

When hives are common, recurrent or chronic, it is important to look at liver and digestive health as well as kidney. Much of the immune system lies in the intestines, so it’s beneficial to have adequate fiber in the diet to move bowels daily and get rid of toxin accumulation. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Bifidus also help to stabilize the immune system. Next, and possibly even more important, all chemicals are processed by the liver. This includes alcohol, sugar, dyes, food additives and medications. Those who have been on frequent and/or long-term medications, even antihistamines, could benefit from N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), and extracts from broccoli such as sulphoraphane. Most people with chronic hives must take a prescription or OTC anti-histamine to avoid life-threatening symptoms. What nutrients do these medications deplete, and what supplements can help restore them?

Antihistamines such as Vistaril or Atarax, in addition to causing dry mouth and headaches, can deplete melatonin, which can cause a host of side effects including insomnia, weight gain and increased cancer risk. Steroid inhalers for Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis such as Flonase or Beclovent deplete several nutrients such as Beta Carotene, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium, Zinc and Melatonin.  At the very least, it is necessary to eat a diet high in greens and reds and take a good quality multi-vitamin when taking these medications. Unfortunately, these medications sometimes deplete the very nutrients that are needed to alleviate the symptoms naturally, such as Vitamin C, so people require more as part of their daily diet.

Work with a qualified nutritionist or naturopathic doctor in order to determine the best course of alternative treatment for you!

Do you suffer from Chronic Hives? Leave us a comment to join our conversation!

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14 thoughts on “Endless Itch: Dealing With Chronic Hives”

  • I have been having urticaria, itching and rashes on my face for months now. I refuse to believe that there is not a cause. I am thinking I am allergic to something, but I just have to figure out what it is. I am suspicious of the Quest bars that I have been eating. I think it’s the erythritol or possibly some other ingredient in them (ie stevia,lo han guo). I’m going to stop eating them and see if it clears up. Also, I am going to take a break from my supplements and see if any of them might be causing a reaction. Another idea is not using any spices for a while. I know I react to cinnamon so I’m going to see what else I might be reacting to.

    I would not give up on trying to find a cause just because your doctor did. Maybe you have a delayed reaction to something that doesn’t show up in an allergy test. I would keep track of every single thing that I put in my mouth or on my body if I were you. Try eliminating things. Don’t give up. You have to be your own advocate for your health. There has to be a cause.

  • My thyroid started enlarging when I started consuming Quest bars. I have cut out all of Quest products and had a repeat US of the thyroid and unbelievably, the thyroid is coming back to normal. No hives here, but wanted to comment about the bars since someone else mentioned them.

    • Hi Aliece! We have not done a study on protein bars to compare the numbers, however, studies are sure to have been performed on popular products like these bars. We are very happy to hear your thyroid issue is normalizing and that you do not suffer from hives as a side effect. Please keep us updated on your condition and let us know if there is anything we might be able to help with. InVite® Health specializes in, not only the education of a healthy lifestyle through on-site healthcare professionals in all of our store locations, but natural, effective products that are created to help others on the journey to their best health! Thank you Aliece!

  • Hello, thank you for your post about chronic urticaria. I discovered your post in my daily scouring of the Internet looking for info on this horrible malady for which there is no cure and little relief. I have been suffering terribly for months now. I have been to my G.P. Doctor numerous times, and he finally washed his hands of me, referring me to an allergy specialist. For this I travel 50 miles and pay $70 each visit for very little relief. The only thing that has totally cleared it up was a six day treatment of prednisone from my G.P. As soon as I went off the steroids, the hives were back with a vengeance. The allergy doc has tested my blood for everything- all of which were inconclusive. I have been proactive about searching for anything in my daily environment and diet that could be a trigger. The itching and pain wakes me up in the night. All this is severely impacting my mental health. I cry all the time and am irritable with my family. Right now I am taking prescription Singulair at night and Zyrtec morning and night. Sometimes I’ll go a few days where it’s controlled and not as angry. This morning I woke up with red, inflamed hives from hell all over my body. Thanks for posting the pictures. That is exactly what mine looks like. I am sorry someone else is suffering, but it helped to know I’m not the only one.

    • Hello Kathy,
      We are sorry you are suffering with this condition, but are very happy we could shed some light and some insight on this condition. Kristin, the writer of this piece, suffers from Chronic Idiopathic Urticarian as well and thought it was very important to share her story, as she hoped it would inspire others to do the same. We are glad to read you are receiving some relief due to this condition and hope you will reach out to us with an update very soon.

      Thank you for your feedback,
      The InVite Health Social Media Team

    • Hi Kathy, I have never posted anything on the internet regarding my condition, but felt I had to once I ready your post – I can relate! I am 37 years old and have always been a healthy individual – never suffering from even seasonal allergies. Until about 3 years ago, I agreed to remove all three of my wisdom teeth on the same day (as suggested by my dentist!) I think I traumatized by body by the pain I was going through during the procedure as this triggered my now known condition of Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria. I learned of my condition when I took 2 ibuprofens as recommended by my dentist that night for inflammation and pain. I immediately broke out into hives and started to swell up especially my eyes and lips. About a year ago I learned, the hard way, I am allergic to ASPIRIN, which is in Ibuprofen and other medications such as Aleeve and Advil. I must agree with one of the other commenters, you have to be your own advocate for your health and wellbeing. I investigated Aspirin online and found out that Aspirin’s main ingredient is Salicylate Acid which is found in almost ALL fruits especially berries which I would eat almost every day!!! Once I cut down on almost every fruit except bananas, pears and golden apples, I have been able to better control my hive breakouts. Unfortunately, I am still affected by almost every food unless I cook it myself without all the typical seasonings. I can only use chives and parsley, so you can understand what I have been going through.

      Enough about of me already – the reason I wanted to write to you is because you mentioned you’re taking Zyrtec. Please replace with another anti-histamine NOW! I too was feeling very agitated with myself and others and noticed myself being angry all the time. One day after searching for help online, I noticed others also talking about these reactions from taking Zyrtec. Turns out, Zyrtec can affect you negatively and even cause suicidal in some people and children! Look it up. I use Allegra instead – when I break out in hives the itching especially subsides in about 10 minutes. It works magically! Also, I recently ordered “The Histamine Reset” online by Yasmina Ykelenstam. I’m only in week 2 of 4 and have found some relief. She recommends Mangosteen supplement and I just purchased it last night. I have researched this tropical fruit and it works wonders for anti-histamines and inflammation (caused by hives).

      I wish you the best of luck to cure this horrible condition. Be well.

  • I have diminished liver function due to constricted bile ducts (cholangitis). A couple of years ago I experienced a nasty case of hives that ultimately enveloped my arms and lengths. The only thing that worked (and only temporarily) was a strong steroid cream.

    One day I realized that I had a bottle of fish oil capsules in my fridge. Three days later – having started taking 4g with breakfast and 4g with dinner – the hives were almost totally gone.

    I’m currently experiencing a minor relapse (likely because my liver condition has recently worsened) and I was embarrassed to realize that I’d forgotten all about folate, which which as someone with diminished liver function I should be taking daily. I bought some this morning and we’ll see how it goes.

    • Hi Jon – Here is Jerry Hickey, R.Ph’s response –
      “Hi,
      Consider the following but you need to get permission from your doctor to take these;
      > Tocotrienol with Pine Bark Extract – one capsule 3 times a day with meals (for liver protection)
      > Krill Oil – one capsule 3 times a day with meals (for liver protection in place of fish oils)
      > Resveratrol 100mg Hx – one capsule 3 times a day with meals (anti-inflammatory/antioxidant activity)
      The only time I have read about folic acid related to this issue was when the patient was taking a drug called cholestyramine (this drug depletes folic acid)
      Thanks
      Jerry Hickey R Ph”

  • Has anyone developed this after an allergy/reaction to a medication or vaccination?
    I have had chronic swelling and hives since having Anaphylaxis to the Flu Vaccination, saw the Immunologist when I was in ICU but he wasn’t much help. However happened to see him in ED the other day and he is certain I have Chronic Autoimmune Urticaria. Just incredibly confused and frustrated and advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Georgia!
      We forward your question to our Scientific Director and Pharmacist, Jerry Hickey, R.Ph. Here are his recommendations but he also would like to provide you information on another doctor.

      “Hi,
      Please try the following to get your skin (possibly autoimmune) condition under control;
      > InflamMune – two capsules twice a day with breakfast and dinner (contains Perna mussel)
      > Catalase with Picrorhiza – one capsule a day with lunch
      > BioCurcumin/ 5-Loxin – two capsules twice a day with breakfast and dinner
      Here is the phone number for a superb rheumatologist (the go to practitioner for autoimmune diseases); Dr Steven Bernstein 212 535 3222
      Thanks, Jerry Hickey Ph”

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