Hives or urticaria is red itchy spots that appear on the skin, their bump-like appearance being the reason for the given name. They usually occur when a person develops an allergy to a drug, insect sting or food item. Infections or stress may also lead to the condition due to the release of certain chemicals such as histamine or mast in the body. Histamine is released when the body is in contact with toxins or pollen. This is a common condition that usually occurs in individuals who are more prone to allergies.
Hives may appear in a ring like formation or may affect large patches of skin. They may therefore range from being a few millimeters in size to a few inches. Wheals or welts which are red lesions may also be a symptom. Hives can occur in any part of the body, be it hands, legs or the trunk. It is a common occurrence that affects about 5% of the population at any time of their lives. It is rarer among men than women.
Normally hives lasts about one to two days and in this duration it may change rapidly in size and location by the hour. It may appear to have completed receded, only to quickly reappear in another spot. Hives may be accompanied by a deeper swelling known as angioedema and may also appear in mucous membranes, the eyes and lips.
Chronic urticaria lasts about six weeks and in about 80% of the cases cannot be traced to any allergic reaction. Urticaria may cause difficulty in breathing and shock but this occurs only in rare cases and hives hardly leads to life threatening situations. Hives affects 15 to 20% of the population at some time in the course of their lives. Acute hives in children may be caused due to a viral infection.
It is said that having hives may lead to stress, but stress does not lead to hives. However some studies show that emotional stress may cause hives, as do extreme hot or cold weather conditions. Chronic stress and tension may cause hives, so it is important to find ways to relax and take some time off your normal routine. Stress affects the immune system and may indirectly lead to hives especially when it persists for a long period of time. Stress is known to affect the hormonal balance and the body chemistry leading to hives.
It is quite usual for the skin to be affected when your mind is affected, for example when an examination is coming up or work is taking its toll on you. Acne, eczema, rosacea, alopecia, psoriasis, vitiligo and hives are some skin conditions associated with stress.
Stress hives are usually treated with relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, massage or counseling. This would relieve stress, and improve the immune system functioning thereby preventing and controlling the occurrence of stress induced hives. A counselor may be able to assist you to find ways to effectively deal with stressful situations. A healthy diet and adequate exercise must be implemented to help relieve stress.
Stress hormones especially affect women as they alter the balance of progesterone and estrogen. Like common hives, stress-related hives also may appear all of a sudden or within minutes of the stressful event's occurrence. Cortisol and adrenaline are released when a person is anxious or stressed and the imbalance can lead to the condition.
Once you are able to determine whether the hives are caused by stress or an allergic reaction, you may begin to take the necessary steps. Stress reliever games and relaxation imagery techniques may be helpful. Since allergies only cause 5 to 10% of hives cases, stress may play a bigger role than is generally assumed.
Typically hives that last more than 6 weeks and tend to recur frequently are called chronic hives. In some cases chronic hives are accompanied by deeper swelling called angioedema.
Treatment for hives
Hives usually recedes by itself without any serious implications. In severe conditions, drugs or injections may be prescribed. Only in rare cases where a swelling blocks the airway and prevents the person from breathing properly, would it be described as an emergency.
People may try to change their soaps, perfumes and make up products to no avail, and such changes are usually not necessarily proved to be useful. To prevent hives, those who have allergic reactions to certain products must try to avoid them.
Keeping the skin cool is seen to relieve hives by shrinking the blood vessels. A cool shower and cold compresses may help provide relief. Avoid exposing your skin to the heat and stay indoors when you have hives, and avoid hot baths.
As histamine is the leading cause of hives, antihistamine drugs may be recommended by your doctor leading to quicker recovery. Steroids may also be prescribed once the cause of the hives is determined.
Monitor your eating habits and the beauty products you use if you find yourself suffering from regular attacks of hives. Nuts, fish, chocolate, milk products, heat, cold, water, deodorants, pets' fur, fungus or bacteria may cause hives.
Homeopathic remedies or external skin applications may be used to relieve itching. It is important to avoid scratching despite the urge to do so, as scratching will only spread the disease and worsen it. Natural treatments are the preferred choice as they have few or no side effects.
Blood or skin tests may be conducted to identify the possible allergen although it is rare that the cause of hives is identified to a particular allergen.
There is no particular treatment that will definitely treat hives, but implementing the suggestions given above can help relieve the symptoms to a great extent.