Hives are red itchy bumps on the skin. They are often caused by an allergic reaction that lasts for a few hours or a couple of days. An antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can usually ease the discomfort.

When hives last longer than six weeks, they enter the realm of mystery. Patients become frustrated by the never-ending itch that seemingly has no cause and no clear cure.

We recently heard from one reader who had a chronic case of hives. Steroid shots, oral prednisone and antihistamines were barely able to control the condition. The nonstop itching was interfering with sleep, and the steroids were causing horrible heartburn.

We shared research on vitamin D3 as a treatment for chronic hives (Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, online Feb. 7, 2014). The researchers had found that 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily reduced symptoms significantly.

Readers responded to this person’s dilemma with their own stories. One offered this: “I also had chronic hives and was on steroids, prednisone and Benadryl. My pharmacist told me to stop taking them and to try Zantac morning and night. It worked amazingly well. My hives have been gone now for several years.”

Some people eventually discovered that their chronic hives were a reaction to cholesterol medication. Here is one example: “I read the article from the person with the horrible itching problem. I, too, had severe itching. It turned out to be due to different cholesterol medications I had been taking.

“The slightest touch to my skin made me itch and break out in hives. I even dreaded taking off my socks! I was switched to Crestor and so far have only had minor problems with itching.”

Other readers found that changing their laundry habits made a difference. One wrote: “I had a similar experience with hives. Steroids didn’t help, but I heard that scented dryer cloths could be a problem. I stopped using them and that solved the problem.”

Another reported: “I SUFFERED from hives and received cortisone shots, but nothing helped permanently. Finally, an emergency room doctor in Spain said to wear all cotton clothes and wash them with perfume-free detergent. Following this advice provided instant relief!”

Sometimes the source of hives is a hidden health condition. One reader reported her experience: “I had a demonic case of hives in 2002 with as many as 100 lesions 24/7 for 10 months. It ruined my life and I traveled all over the East Coast to consult various experts who offered no relief. The only thing I learned is that the rebound from steroids makes hives worse and that is the wrong way to go.

“I went to a medical library to do my own research and found that thyroid suppression could help. My MD increased my Synthroid and the hives disappeared within four days.”

Sometimes hives can be a symptom of something serious. The most distressing story we received was the following: “A close friend of mine had a problem with chronic hives. Finally, one doctor recognized chronic itching as a known symptom of pancreatic cancer and ordered tests that verified it. He said the itching revealed the condition early and allowed prompt surgery that gave my friend five more years of life.”

This is a reminder that hives deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect.

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  1. Kathy
    Camp Verde, Arizona

    My name is Kathy. I live in Arizona. In 1996, I received a series of three steroid shots in my lower sciatic nerve to deaden it, as my pain was very severe. About two months after the shots I started developing itching and breaking out with bumps on my hips, back, and lower region. This lasted off and on for a few years then went away. My lower back pain subsided.

    In 2013, I fell and broke L-1 and L-3 vertebrae, which messed up my left hip so badly that I could not lie on it and had great difficulty in walking at times. My new doctor gave me a shot in that hip, another steroid injection.

    Not even two weeks later I started breaking out with these bumps again. They get itchy, very red, look like blisters, and get pus under the skin in the middle. They go away after a week or two, then start breaking out again. And they are somewhat sore. None of my doctors in the area can tell me what causes them or what they actually are. And sometimes they will leave a scar on my skin. I am so frustrated over this. As everything I have read tells me they are from the steroid shots, I won’t ever take another one. After the itch goes away is when the pus develops in the center of them before they dry up and go away.

  2. Judith

    I developed hives after I was hospitalized for sinus infection and surgery. I have had the hives almost continuously for the past year which were controlled with Zyrtec twice a day. Sometimes it is better than others.

    I recently went on low dose prednisone (2.5 mg/day) for fluid in my ears and the hives completely cleared up. Unfortunately they came back worse than ever today when I went off the prednisone

    I will start back on the Zyrtec and get off the prednisone but it was a great 2 weeks to be completely hive free!

    I am going to try the vitamin D and zantac as well. Not sure about the nettles.
    see the allergist today

  3. Jan

    I started feeling itchy about 3 weeks ago. It came on suddenly with no apparent cause. I have tried Cortizone 10 cream, Sarna Cream & vinegar. They all worked for a short time but now nothing is working. I will start taking Benadryl tomorrow & give an update after on it for a while.

    • C

      I had hives for 3 weeks and here is what finally got rid of them. I took the oral 6 day steroid, 1 zyrtec in the morning then 50mg of benedryl (an H1 Blocker) 3 times a day and 150mg of Zantac (H2 Blocker) 2 times a day. Once I added the Zantac, which was day 3 into my steroids, no new ones surfaced.

  4. Julie

    Ive been battling chronic hives, daily, for almost 15 years. I am 34 yrs old. It has taken on its own life. Ive been through now 20 answers. Ive been in the er for the swelling of the throat 7 times. Ive tried creams..acid reflux medications. .vitamins..anti histamines..and unfortunately prednisone daily for 6 years. Just recently my hives went haywire. Nothing controlled them..not even prednisone. I was in the er 2x in a 9 hr period. Ive since then gone from 20 mg a day that kept them under control to now 40 mg a day plus 50 mg of benadryl every 4 hours to keep them controlled. Prednisone is horrible but it took on a new level when I increased to 40 mg. Im now suffering from the ‘steroid psychosis’ side effects for 3 weeks now. It is terrifying and no doctors seem to find the seriousness of this as ive talked about this sudden paranoia and never told why by the docs. I had to research it myself to understand what was happening to me all of a sudden. Please be aware of prednisone side effects and make a doc listen to your symptoms. I still have no resolution to my hives. I just think of all that I love to fight this misersble condition every day.

    • Kim

      Xolair is a monthly biologic that was recently approved for chronic hives (it was originally developed for asthma).

    • Linda
      KENT UK

      Julia have you had any allergys test at all?
      If not maybe ask for all the blood test you can? to determine that you may have an allergy which is actually causing the hives

      Mine hives are actually being caused by anti histimine tablets! which cost me a small fortune to find that out x

  5. boyd

    Have hives almost all the time. Have had all the shots,intravenous injection for 7 days, steroids and everything else. Please if someone has suggestions please send me email. Need help///

    • Linda

      Have you had any allergy blood tests? if not insist on having them and seeing an allergist.

      Keep a food diary to seen if a certain food makes you itch. Go back to using simple shampoos and stuff without perfumes.

  6. Sandy

    My 15 year old daughter began suffering from hives 2 years ago following a virus. Her allergist said it was a side effect from some viruses. The hives initially came when she was got overheated but continued to worsen-she now has hives on her legs and face around her hairline constantly and continues to break out over the rest of her body. Her skin also feels very warm when the hives are present.
    Her allergist has prescribed steroids and various antihistamines none of which has helped. She has also tried over the counter creams and lotions to control the itching but nothing worked. We are in the process (paperwork, insurance approval and drug costs) of trying ZOLAIR.
    For anyone unfamiliar with this relatively new drug, it is an injection that is given approximately twice per month and for some people helps with hives. Blood work must be completed and insurance approval is not guaranteed. I understand it costs several thousand dollars a month and must be continued indefinitely.
    We did discover that shell fish may aggravate the severity of the hives but she has not been skin tested for shellfish yet. If anyone has any other treatments that have proven successful, we would appreciate the information!

  7. tgtcpht

    400 IU is one of the smallest doses available OTC. I’d recommend getting a larger dose. It’s available up to 5,000IU. Yes, 4,000 is the correct dose.

  8. A.G.C.

    A few years ago, I was troubled with GIANT HIVES. Benadryl helped but did not solve the problem.
    My dermatologist was at a loss.
    I took it on myself to solve the problem and went on a diet of only boiled white rice until the problem eased. Then I added “new” foods one a day, keeping a log with details of what they contained, particularly processed foods.
    This pointed me to CARAGEENAN, a seaweed used in an increasing number of products. I knew I was allergic to shell fish and have since extended that to Iodine, the common element.
    Since then, I am careful to avoid any such products and have been free of hives.

  9. Anonymous

    My doctor has me taking 5000 IU of Vitamin D3 as a D supplement since mine was so low when tested. Therefore, 4000 IU is not extreme for something like hives I would not think.

    • Linda

      That’s brilliant! glad your better…good idea about going back to basics,,, rice it is for me then :)

  10. sstevens

    Regarding taking vitamin D-3, 4,000 IU daily, for hives… is that dosage correct? My mother suffers from hives or some other bothersome skin condition and would like to try this approach. She has a bottle of D3, 400 IU. Does this mean she should take ten a day? This seems like an awful lot. Please comment.

  11. Donnie

    I have food, environmental and other allergies, and get hives from them. I take Allegra every day and use a bit of Cortaid cream on my skin as needed for hives. My husband started getting hives a couple of years ago. And it was found that he was reacting to snacks and other foods that contain canola or cottonseed oils. He had never had allergies, so that was a surprise. He has to avoid anything that contains those oils.

  12. Barbara

    At 76 I had my first case of hives. After five days of itching (with no help from OTC pills) I got some Aloe Vera Gel. I put it on my body and the itch stopped and the redness went away but had to do this through out the day and night for a couple of days but was able to sleep for a few hours. I keep it on hand all the time because I use it on burns and cuts. I hope this is helpful for others.

  13. WBT

    Would get hives about right knee only while wearing long pants. Now wear shorts [just above the knee] & knee high stockings [compression] all year. Have not had hives, T.G.

  14. Beth C.

    I got hives that lasted 3 weeks. After trying Benadryl, then Cortizone pills, I researched “natural” remedies and tried Nettles (capsule form) that I found at Whole Foods. They are made from the plant Stinging Nettles. After 2 days, my hives were gone! If I get hives again, I will go to Nettle Capsules first!

  15. JO

    As a youth, my daughter had a recurring case of the hives for many years. As an active kid who played competitive soccer and basketball, she would often take ibuprofen to relieve aches and pains.
    We never linked the medicine and the hives until one night after a high school soccer game when she took the recommended dose of Aleve pain reliever. Her face had a massive allergic reaction to the medicine – i.e., she looked like the elephant man. We had to rush her to the emergency room for for fear of her breathing passage way closing down. After they treated her, it took 2-3 days for the swelling to go down.
    Turns out, she’s allergic to this class of pain relievers. Looking at the side effects for these meds, we found that hives was one of the possibilities.
    Since my daughter stopped using ibuprofen and the like (Advil, Aleve,etc.), she no longer has the hives.
    hope this helps!

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