9 Ways to Get Instant Relief From Chronic Hives
Chronic hives are more frustrating than anything—they come on without warning and can last for at least six weeks. And these things can itch something fierce, thanks to the body's immune system pumping out chemicals called histamines. "The exact cause of chronic hives cannot be identified, with only a small percentage coming from allergies," explains Sheel Desai Solomon, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Preston Dermatology & Skin Surgery in Raleigh, N.C. So, while overhauling your lifestyle helps, it's essential that you are armed with these fast relief fixes for when uninvited flare ups show up.
Fast Fix: Antihistamines
In most cases a prescription-strength antihistamine, whether it's a topical cream or a pill, will be a doctor's recommendation for chronic hives. Some over the counter medications like Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec and Benadryl also help. Dr. Solomon notes that taking antihistamines on a regular basis if you know you are prone to allergies is an effective way to prevent chronic hives from developing. "Claritin is a non-drowsy over-the-counter antihistamine that is perfectly safe to take daily, even with no allergy symptoms," says Dr. Solomon.
Fast Fix: Cold Compress
If a sudden spike in your body temp is sparking your hives or making them worse, cool them down by placing a cold compress on the welts. This super-soothing technique helps reduce inflammation along with easing the itchiness. "In some people, a rise in temperature can produce the chemical histamine," says Ehsan Ali, M.D., an internist in Beverly Hills. "Histamine dilates blood vessels and results in swelling." And unlike certain medications, a cold compress can be used repeatedly.
Fast Fix: Oatmeal and Baking Soda Bath
Adding a cup of uncooked or colloidal oatmeal to lukewarm water in a tub—and then plopping yourself into it—helps reduce redness and decrease the rate of histamine release from mast cells (the part of the immune system that is responsible for pumping out histamine). Oatmeal's high level of vitamin E helps cool the inflammation. Baking soda works similarly, since it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Bonus: "Baking soda dries out the skin due to its alkaline properties, which provides further relief from the itching," says Dr. Solomon.
Fast Fix: Meditation
Stress can literally throw things completely out of whack—including your skin. While you may need a physical remedy to take down the immediate signs of a stress-induced flare, calming your mind through a mini meditation session can also help lower your cortisol levels. In fact, a minute of deep breathing (inhale, pause for three seconds, exhale, pause for a another three seconds, and repeat) is one of the quickest ways to thwart stress, according to Harvard Medical School. Got a little more time to spare? Dr. Solomon notes that some studies have found that a relaxing acupuncture session is an effective treatment for anxiety-related conditions.
Fast Fix: Menthol
You may have noticed that it doesn't matter how much of your go-to cream or salve you put on your hives; the flare doesn't budge. That's because hives are the result of an internal reaction. But you can manage some of the irritation with an anti-itch cream infused with 1% menthol like Dermacool. How it works: The menthol triggers the receptors in skin responsible for feeling cold. And since your brain can only process one sense at a time, cold often wins out.
Fast Fix: Turmeric Tea
If you're prone to chronic hives, adding anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric into your diet can be helpful. Try mixing two teaspoons of turmeric powder into warm water and drink twice a day (or try Tazo Turmeric Bliss Tea, target.com). Prefer to eat your turmeric? Most major cooking sites have turmeric-themed recipe collections, so have fun finding a few new dishes to try!
Fast Fix: Steamed Veggies
Most chronic hives have no known cause, but there is a small percentage that is allergy- or food-related. In fact, some people with allergies to tree pollen may also be triggered by eating the raw fruits from those trees. Eating raw veggies can sometimes cause a similar reaction. Not sure how many fruits you'll eat cooked (applesauce, anyone?), but if you think certain veggies could be to blame, Dr. Solomon says cooking them might reduce the chance of a reaction.
Fast Fix: Outfit Change
Not only can closet clutter cause stress and trigger a flare up, on a micro level, the fabrics themselves could be the cause of your hives. Try to avoid tight clothing and undergarments that do not allow skin to breathe. Also, wool fabrics tend to rub against the skin and worsen your hives. Cotton, soft fabrics, and stretchy clothes work best. If you have hives around your ankles and feet, you should also avoid tight shoes and socks. "Polyester and synthetic fabrics and even metals with cobalt, like a watch can cause hives," adds Dr. Ali.
Fast Fix: Unscented Soap
Added fragrances in soaps, moisturizers, and shampoos may be the cause of your hives. If you can pinpoint the specific scented product that's doing you in, obviously eliminate if from your lineup. It’s not necessarily the act of putting these products on your skin that’s causing the hives. There's a direct olfactory connection that can trigger a flare, says Dr. Solomon. "Particles in the fragrance enter airways, and upon smelling it can cause the skin to react." Dr. Ali also notes that technically, any sort of fragrance or perfume that contains alcohol could stimulate the immune system and cause a histamine release.