While a number of skin conditions can lead to red, inflamed, itchy skin, hives are among the most common, affecting more than 3 million U.S. residents each year and 1 in 5 people during their lifetimes. Also known as urticaria, hives occur when the body produces an excess of histamine, usually due to an allergic or stress response. While not contagious and typically not life-threatening, hives can get in the way of daily activities and harm one’s emotional state. So, even though most breakouts of hives disappear on their own within 24-48 hours, most people will seek immediate relief. Let’s go over some ways to treat and prevent hives.
Common causes of hives include allergic reactions (i.e. foods, pet dander, dust mites, pollen, etc.), medications, infections, temperature fluctuations, exercise, scratching, sun exposure, severe stress, and more -- essentially anything that tells the body to produce additional histamine. These “causes” are better referred to as “triggers” since they can set off and/or aggravate a breakout of hives but might not be the actual root cause of the problem. Medical researchers currently think that the presence of hives primarily has to do with one’s immune system, though the precise mechanism remains unclear.
Hives can be broken into two main categories: acute urticaria and chronic urticaria. The former is caused by a sudden response to an environmental trigger (i.e. allergen or stressor) while the latter seems to be a long-term autoimmune response. Fortunately, both types of hives can be treated, although in different ways.
Acute hives treatment options mainly revolve around antihistamines such as cetirizine or fexofenadine. These medications dampen the effects of histamines, which in turn mitigate swelling, itching, and other hives symptoms. Chronic hives, on the other hand, are often treated with antibiotics to help reduce swelling and stave off potential related infections. An injection such as Omalizumab (Xolair) may also be recommended by your dermatologist -- this drug obstructs immunoglobulin E, which has to do with allergy hives and other allergic responses.
Various topical creams and ointments can also help relieve hives symptoms, such as calamine lotion, with hazel, and products containing aloe vera and other soothing ingredients.
Even if you and your dermatologist come up with an effective treatment plan for your acute or chronic urticaria, it’s also important to take steps to avoid breaking out in hives in the first place. The first step to preventing these outbreaks is understanding your triggers. Pay attention to your surroundings when you break out in hives, as they might provide a hint as to what caused your symptoms -- perhaps it was a certain food, a sudden change in body temperature, etc. Your doctor may ask you questions regarding when and where the outbreak occurred, which medications (if any) you’re currently taking, whether you were bitten by an insect, and so on. Once you’ve narrowed down the events and objects that seem to set off your allergy or stress hives, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid those triggers.
Additionally, you can guard yourself against hive outbreaks by taking good care of your skin (i.e. moisturizing, exfoliating, staying clean), wearing loose, comfortable clothing, taking in enough vitamin D and other essential nutrients, and taking care of your mental health with de-stressing techniques and activities.
If you’re tired of dealing with hives and want to take more control over your skin’s responses, the experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can help you find the right treatment and prevention plan for your skin. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.