Q. I have a chronic case of hives. When I was first diagnosed, seven weeks ago, I was given a steroid shot and a six-pack of prednisone and told to take Benadryl at night and Zyrtec during the day. My doctor sent me to a dermatologist who said I need to be on steroids at triple the dose.

Since the dose I was already on gave me unbelievable acid reflux, I told him there has to be another way. He prescribed some other drugs that clearly are not working. At first the hives came and went, but the last couple of days they are constant.

The constant itching keeps me awake and I’m worn out and miserable. Is there anything natural I could take? I am clearing stuff out of my diet like gluten, sugar and sodas, but so far it has made no difference. This condition is like having a permanent case of the measles.

A. Cleaning up your diet is not a bad idea, but it won’t necessarily get rid of hives. The cause of chronic hives often remains mysterious.

A new study suggests that adding 4,000 IU vitamin D3 to your daily regimen might be helpful (Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, online Feb. 7, 2014). In this trial, people with chronic hives were randomly assigned to take either 600 or 4000 IU vitamin D3 in addition to their antihistamines and other medicines. Although those taking the high-dose vitamin did not use fewer antihistamines, their symptoms were significantly less troublesome at the end of three months.

Make sure the vitamin D you take is vitamin D3. Another recent study has shown that vitamin D2 supplements can actually lower levels of vitamin D3 in the body (Nutrients, Dec. 20, 2013).

Millions of people have too little vitamin D, especially as the winter draws to a close. To learn more, we suggest our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency.

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  1. m d s
    Reply

    Hello t e a,
    Will you please tell me the name of the blood pressure medication? My doctor seems to think that because I have taken this blood pressure medication as well as liquid potassium for over a year that it is not what is giving me hives. Thank you for your information.

  2. P.I.
    Reply

    I started with hives in 1990. For two days they came out when I took a bath, then go back in a few minutes later. The third day they didn’t go away. It was awful. I finally went to the emergency room and was given a shot and prednisone pills to take over a period of a few days.
    A week later they returned. After going to one doctor with no relief, I finally went to a doctor that is well known in the field of dermatology. After having blood test and a biopsy to rule out any underlining causes, I was given medicines that started to work and eventually resulted in the hives coming back. It’s a trial and error thing.
    Finally, I was given doxepin four times a day, then decreased to three times a day. After that my doctor prescribed doxepin two times a day along with one zyrtec once a day. After the hives went away an attempt was made to see if I could just take zyrtec without the doxepin. That didn’t work. So, I was put on one doxepin at night and one zyrtec in the morning. I have been on this regimen every since.
    It was rough, but after a whole year of testing to see what worked for me, I am fine. I had to learn to read labels on cans when choosing food, watch out for yellow dye number 5 and stay away from shell fish and citrus. I stayed away from all of it until 2005. I gradually started incorporating them into my life, but I don’t overwhelm myself with them. I still see my dermatologist. I will always have to. I was going every six months.
    Last month I was told I don’t have to see him for a year. Also, certain kinds of fibers and materials can cause a flair up. I use to not be able to walk on certain kinds of carpets. It wouldn’t hurt to see an allergist for a skin test. I did.

  3. TCB
    Reply

    My remedy was hot showers (don’t scald yourself) and dabbing, not rubbing, myself dry with a clean towel. For me, it got rid of the itching sensation and the unwanted oils in my skin. It took me a couple of days and multiple showers a day to clear up.
    There are two things I took from this.
    – one, a rash is my skins inability to breath because something was clogging it (oil).
    – two, hot water opened my pores long enough to remove the unwanted oil.

  4. LM
    Reply

    I too suffered from hives for several years, starting when I bought an old restored Victorian home. Old carpet. Moved to 2 other older homes over the next several years, all with old carpet, plumbing, etc. Finally moved to a newer home with concrete and wood floors. No carpet. No unseen plumbing issues. Hives disappeared overnight.

  5. Christy D
    Reply

    Many years ago a friend of mine suffered from a random case of hives and tried everything imaginable to get rid of them. She finally found the trigger – she would brush her teeth after lunch everyday and realized that her toothbrush and case she kept in her desk had developed mold. Once she replaced them, the hives went away.

  6. MimiB
    Reply

    For years, starting when I was in my early teens, I would break out in hives whenever I got cold, particularly on exposed or less warm areas, such as hands, face, legs, neck, etc. If I went swimming in cold water, or was outside in cold wet windy days I’d get them all over my body. There didn’t seem to any trigger foods, meds or substances. We tried many experiments, processes of elimination, etc. Nope, my hives were strictly cold exposure related. Once I got warm, they’d go away.
    I tried antihistamines on advice from doctors, taking a dose before exposure, but to no avail, other than feeling sleepy. I would get somewhat acclimated to the cold as winter came came on, needing a sharp change in temperature to trigger an outbreak, as happened during warmer seasons.
    I no longer get hives. While I choose to live in a warm climate these days, I occasionally travel to and spend time in cold areas without affliction. The only difference would seem to be my age and that I’m now post menopausal. Perhaps my hives were partially hormone related? Perhaps others afflicted by hive outbreaks should be tested for hormonal irregularities when other more obvious causes are eliminated from consideration?

  7. Sally from Seattle, WA area
    Reply

    RE: chronic hives and/or chronic itching: If a dermatologist or your primary care provider cannot help, be sure to consult a board certified allergist. I suffered with horrible itching and redness and suddenly realized it must be an allergy if my other docs could not figure it out.
    My allergist performed skin tests and voila! I had become allergic to corn. After eliminating all corn and corn derivatives (including dextrose in granulated salt) I am able to be itch free.
    My allergist views itching even without hives as the same as hives.

  8. CAC
    Reply

    The diagnosis of chronic hives, to me, means we don’t know what is causing them. My Grandson at the age of 6 was diagnosed with chronic hives. He would breakout all over his body and his eyes would swell almost closed.
    Antihistamines did not work or would make him so miserable he could not be calm for any length of time. After much trial and error of diet eliminating
    we found the problem to be milk with hormones–which is almost every brand of milk except organic and the Harris Teeter brand. The brands that state–“Our farmers promise not to use milk from cows treated with hormones”–are NOT hormone free in most cases. He can drink several glasses of milk with hormones and the problem returns.
    Even though all the agencies state that hormones don’t matter–for my grandson it does matter. Don’t be miserable–check the milk additives for results. It does take several days for the hives and swelling to disappear.

  9. Abigail
    Reply

    Many antibiotics and other meds list Hives as a side effect to watch for. Usually when we get an antibiotic we are too ill to read the small print handout we are given. A doctor told me we can also develop sensitivity to Benadryl especially the topical form. I think that is diphenhydramine. Thank you to everyone who has commented- I’ve learned a lot.

  10. LouisianaJoe
    Reply

    I had hives and itching a couple of years ago. My wife had recently changed the brand of laundry detergent. I bought some dye and fragrance free detergent and that made my itching go away.

  11. EL
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with chronic hives about 2 years ago. The first allergist I went to did not try to find the cause of the hives and only prescribed prednisone and antihistamines. I went to another allergist and after doing the normal tests, that was when I was told it was an auto-immune disease and is something that I will always have. The key is to keep it under control. The second allergist weaned me off of the prednisone and antihistamines.
    I take an Allegra (or the generic, Fexofenadine) in the morning and a Zantac in the evening. In addition, my allergist told me to stay away from certain spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, and any other spices in that family. I also stay away from very spicy foods. Since following this protocol I have been hive-free.

  12. ebm
    Reply

    Since yellow, original Listerine is working for severe cases like shingles pain, perhaps it would work on hives also.
    I used to get them in Germany at the Northsee at the beach and also while camping in Italy at the big Lake, Lago Maggiore. Had to leave after a few days because of hives and they cleared. Allergies!

  13. CLAUDIA A
    Reply

    I suffered from chronic hives, rash off and on for years. Doctors could never figure it out. Also subjected me to biopsy. I finally discovered it was correlated to the immune system. The addition D3 helped, but recently took additional Vitamin C, time released and it cleared up. I am trying to keep the extra C in my daily routine. So far so good.

  14. Cara
    Reply

    Are you allergic to a medication or food? I was on a medication years ago and developed horrible hives. Fortunately, I figured out it was the medication causing the problem, even though my doctor said it was stress. I took myself off the medication, and the hives went away. Doctors are not gods, and they can be wrong.

  15. Charlotte F.
    Reply

    I developed hives in August 1975 at the age of 26. They were very large, raised, red rings or C shapes, with a purplish center. People thought I had been burned. The only place they never appeared was on my face. I itched all over until I thought I would go crazy.
    My feet would swell so much I couldn’t put shoes on and sometimes couldn’t even bear to walk. I wrapped my feet in wet, icy cold towels. I soaked in the tub with warm water and baking soda. I wore long sleeves to hide my arms. I used a plastic hair brush to scratch. The hives would go away for short periods of time, but then return with a vengeance.
    I was taken off birth control pills. I was tested. I ate nothing but white rice, fried hamburger, and carrots for three weeks, then slowly added foods with no results. We checked every thing that came into contact with my skin. The final consensus was “stress induced hives.”
    I was off and on Prednisone. When the itching was unbearable, I received shots of Cortisone. I tried every anti-itching skin cream available. Nothing brought relief.
    This lasted for 12 years.
    In October 1988, I came down with double bacterial pneumonia, with a secondary complication of asthma. After two weeks of treatment at home, I was hospitalized for five days. During my hospitalization was I given six different antibiotics by IV.
    After returning home, my hives started fading. I have not had one single hive since!
    At that same time, I also had a large patch of Plantar’s warts on the side of one foot and it was becoming painful. Within a few days after hospitalization, this area started lifting around the edge and literally peeled off in one patch showing pink healthy skin underneath. I have not had a Plantar’s wart since.
    My thought has always been that the hives were caused by some kind of deep-rooted bacteria and that would explain my response to the intensive antibiotic IV therapy.

  16. rh
    Reply

    I had chronic, intermittent hives that caused my lips and eyelids to swell so that I was not recognizable along with huge round, red areas on my body that looked like a target with a clear center. I used the decreasing dose of steroids along with the spray form of cortisone and obtained relief until the next outbreak. I suffered with this problem since childhood and no physician that I went to could find the cause until an FP did allergy testing when I was in my late thirties. Turns out I was allergic to tomatoes, tobacco, some weeds and grasses. I quit smoking and eating tomatoes and guess what? I have not had the problem since and I am 71 years old.

  17. Dot G
    Reply

    I have experienced Hives 2 times, both in my thirties, each when I was in an emotional Tsunami. You may need to clear your mind as well as your body. Good Luck.

  18. M.L.
    Reply

    Many years ago I kept getting hives and finally traced it to a common dye, Yellow #5. It was in my favorite cologne (Jean Nate) at that time and I used it every day. It continues to be in many products and foods and many people are sensitive to it. Yellow #5 is banned in Europe (why not here?). Once I eliminated it my hives and itching went away. I stay away from anything yellow (shampoo, soap, detergent etc.) Recently my hair stylist gave me a sample of shampoo and I forgot to check the ingredients before trying it. In a few days my head started to itch. Yellow #5 was in it.

  19. t e a
    Reply

    I suffered with this for over a year and it’s awful! I’m so sorry that you’re suffering with it as well. My physician and an allergist ruled out all medical problems, diseases, allergies… you name it – I was tested for it! After several months I had to see an ENT for an ear problem, he asked why I was taking a broad cocktail of antihistimines, I explained my chronic hive problem to him and he looked at my medication list and told me to suggest to my doctor that I have my blood pressure medicine changed. He said he had many patients in his office with swollen faces, mouths, necks on the same blood pressure med. I took.
    When my family physician changed my blood pressure med. (that I had been on for over ten years with no problems) my hives completely disappeared. There is only one over the counter medicine I have to continue to take, however, and that is one Zyrtec every day. If I don’t take it, I get very itchy and a few hives appear. But, at least I feel like I can live a fairly normal life again! I hope my story helps you in some way. Good luck.

  20. J.B.
    Reply

    I had hives on and off for around 2 or 3 years. It is miserable! I went through allergy testing, dust (mite) remediation & control, examined all topical exposures around the house, was on anti-itch medicine and benadryl & a GP told me to add pepcid AC help the Histamine 3 response in the body, which lessened the itching a bit. Nothing solved the problem, except some information I read on my own – that sometimes hives correlated w/the timing of bladder infections.
    The final time I felt that I was getting a UTI, I scheduled an appointment for a urine test. In the meantime, on the off chance that the hives was bladder (bacterial infection) related, I started drinking a full glass of water at the top of every hour. I used the bathroom a lot that day. By the time the doctors appointment came, they could not get a proper urine sample, said I was peeing water, so no antibiotics were prescribed that time. This was over 12 years ago. My UTI symptoms abated that day, and I have not had a bladder infection OR HIVES ever since then.
    I speculate that antibiotics had failed to get rid of whatever bacteria caused the first bladder infection I got, so that the offending culprit would just build back up gradually in my body until my immune system couldn’t take it anymore and I would develop hives, and eventually UTI symptoms. The hives were always longer lived than the bladder infection, so I think the bacteria at lower levels manifested as hives as a warning before feeling the UTI symptoms, as well as after, as if the antibiotics reduced the bacterial level but didn’t eradicate it. Maybe it was an antibiotic resistant strain – I had had multiple rounds of antibiotics while younger due to strep infections and UTIs. I think the copious amounts of water over those 2 days flushed my system in a way that the antibiotics hadn’t.
    Knowing what I know now, I would have added probiotics and cranberry, as it is now known to take weeks to restore the gut biome, and the immune system can be left hanging in the meantime. Now I wonder if probiotics would have been a solution, even on its own, to control the bad bacteria w/good bacteria. Vitamin D3 from the sun also makes the body produce it’s own anti-bacterials in the body, which also lends itself to the idea that some hives might be a result of an overabundance of certain bacteria in the body: low D3 (no sun) = low natural antibiotic immune capabilities = hive breakouts in some people.

  21. Jennifer Y.
    Reply

    Are you by chance taking daily aspirin because you’d read that it’s good to do so? I started taking a baby aspirin, never dreaming I was allergic to aspirin. I had taken 500 mg aspirin for occasional headaches all my adult life. About 8 years ago I got chronic itchy legs. I had an allergy test, but everything came up negative. Then, due to a a-fib diagnosis a cardiologist suggested 325 mg aspirin/day.
    I started itching all over and my eyes puffed up. My primary care physician said it was classic aspirin allergy. Now I delay taking a headache aspirin until I absolutely have to (I try eating ice cream first.) I then prepare for the itchiness, which takes a good while to go away. If you’re on aspirin (any level), try stopping it for a while to see if it might be the cause of your problem.

  22. Denise T
    Reply

    I really feel for you! I had this and the hives eventually went away on their own. They cleared up very slowly, over about a six- to nine-month period and never came back. That was thirty years ago. None of the doctors I saw offered me steroids or any drug other than Benedryl which, when you are completely covered with intensely itching hives, provides almost no relief at all.
    I found that exposing as much skin as possible to the sun (I wore a bikini swimsuit out on the back deck) for as long as I could stand it (one to three hours) caused the hives to subside for a day or two. Ironically, my normally sun-sensitive skin did not burn, even though I did not use sunscreen. I wasn’t sure at the time whether it was the sunlight or the perspiring or the heat (it was summer and hot outside), but now after reading the Graedon’s answer to you, I think it may have been the increased vitamin D my body made in response to sunlight that did it.

  23. Dr. Judi
    Reply

    I found that pills of Vitamin D3 did nothing. But drops of D3 in Olive oil raised my blood level of Vitamin D.

  24. Wendy
    Reply

    I’ve found the Chinese medical approach very effective for hives. The couple times I’ve had them really badly, a session of acupuncture and an herbal formula has put an end to them, and since then, the dietary suggestions that I’ve followed has kept them from coming back.

  25. Jenny
    Reply

    You might also check your thyroid level. Low thyroid can also result in chronic hives. If your body is producing thyroid antibodies, and you take thyroid, you might actually need to keep your thyroid levels on the high end of normal in order to avoid chronic hives.

  26. Jill W
    Reply

    A friend who has suffered with this for about a year finally went through the UVA Allergy & Immunology Clinic. She is now on what amounts to the Paleo Autoimmune Diet and says it is the first time she has had any relief, despite all the other diet tweaks she had tried in the past including sugar free, gluten-free, etc. You might look into it. It isn’t as hard to maintain as some of the others.

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