hives

Hives are red itchy bumps on the skin, known in doctor-speak as “urticaria.” They are often caused by an allergic reaction that lasts for a few hours or a couple of days. An antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can usually ease the discomfort for a short-term problem such as this.

Long-Lasting Hives:

When they 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. 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.

Vitamin D3 for Urticaria:

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 urticaria was 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.”

Is It Something in the Clothing?

Other readers found that changing their laundry habits made a difference. One wrote:

“I had a similar experience with itching. 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!”

Might Diet Be at the Root of the Itch?

Because urticaria can be a sign of allergy, doctors in Thailand tried having people avoid foods that might be causing the problem. Patients who avoided the foods that caused a reaction with a skin prick test had much less itching (Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, Dec., 2015). The foods most frequently associated with hives were fish, milk, tomato, shrimp, peanut, oyster and yeast.

Could a Health Problem Cause Urticaria?

Sometimes the source of the problem is a hidden health condition. One reader reported her experience:

“I had a demonic case of itching 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. Doctors may have a difficult time figuring out the reason for ongoing urticaria. As a result, patients will need to help with the sleuthing.

Revised 6/23/16

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  1. Terri
    01569
    Reply

    Looking for anyone else with suffering of hives triggered by vibration, stress, heat and cold.

    When I was 11 I started getting hives triggered by exercise and heat, and they finally went away by age 16. I’m now 53, and my daughter started with hives triggered by heat at age 5. Unfortunately, she has developed hives from cold air and vibrations and when stressed. She is now 22 yrs old, and it is worse than ever

    My heart breaks for her, and I see others whose hives are triggered by heat OR cold but not both. Anyone else the same? Would like to help find best solution

    She is afraid to take holier shot, and we tried everything named by others. Just managing by keeping environment safe, which keeps her from being social. Would appreciate any comments.

  2. Pat
    Williamsburg, VA
    Reply

    Hives can have many root causes. There are physically induced hives (from pressure, vibration, scratchiness against skin), temperature induces hives, exercise induced hives, hives triggered by sunshine (can happen with some medications), and hives related to foods. The situation with food related hives is complex. Some foods contain histamine, some don’t but they trigger histamine release in the body when eaten, food with additives, preservatives, colors, can trigger histamine release. Alcohol triggers it. Some foods only cause a reaction if overripe, or not well refrigerated. Tuna can develop a chemical if storage is delayed. Eat a can of that and you go to the emergency room. There is an enzyme called diamine oxidase that the body uses to keep histamine from building up in excess, and if it is blocked, too much histamine can build up and cause hives. I have had debilitating hives on and off for over 20 years, with a few sporadic episodes before that, so have spent A LOT of time looking for relief. What I am saying is research backed. You can look it up, and you can ask a dietician, too, if you want to check what I am saying. As for remedies, haha, I have too many for this post, effective ones, too, mostly for symptoms, only in the short term, but also I know some self care methods and what medical treatments have helped me get over an episode. Doctors do not know the stuff I have just written about. They know what treatments help most people, but when it gets tricky, they don’t have further advice. I don’t blame them, because it is complex, but there needs to be a way people can access the forgoing information, to help themselves, as it can be a trial and error process, due to more than one cause, and each episode may not be identical.

  3. Mandy
    Reply

    How much D3 do you need to take for chronic hives?

  4. Bernadine
    Minnesota
    Reply

    About two weeks after I get a cortisone shot in my knee for arthritis, I break out in hives. I’ve been in a low histamine diet for three months thinking that was the problem. Now I’m taking Zyrtec to alleviate the hives. Doesn’t work real well but at least they haven’t spread. I get them in my arms and stomach area. This time on the arms only so far. Still low histamine diet but am rethinking that as well.

  5. Deb C.
    Washington, NC
    Reply

    Hi, I was allergic to this and that as a child, and had a few cases of hives as a younger grown-up; not very serious and easily vanquished with antihistamines. However, about three years ago I was working out of town and developed an agonizing case of hives virtually all over my body. I looked like a lobster.

    Since I was out of town, I went to an urgent care facility. The genius doc I saw told me the following: take a Zyrtec (lasts 24 hours) in the AM. If that doesn’t work by itself, add a Zantac (lasts 12 hours; works on other histamine receptors than the Zyrtec), if at bedtime, I was still itching, take a Benadryl. I never needed the Benadryl. Several days of Zyrtec-then-Zantac took care of the hives and the itching.

  6. L
    Reply

    My friend’s daughter recently came down with a bad, prolonged case of hives. Before she had her scheduled appt. with an allergist, her mother realized that the new brand of hair conditioner that they had just started using was the culprit! Whether or not it was the contact with her scalp alone, or considering that during a shower, it could conceivably wash over most of the skin on her body…they’re not sure which, but they do not want to experiment to find out. :-}

  7. Lorraine
    Texas
    Reply

    My father frequently had hives, and I would get them occasionally. They always seemed to be most often in winter, and made some Christmases miserable. I live in Texas and eat pecans all the time. I ate a brownie with a lot of nuts a few years ago and broke out in hives. The nuts were not pecans, they were walnuts. It then dawned on me that Dad’s problem was his love of walnuts, which are plentiful in the fall and winter and eaten in baked goods and ‘as is’ around Christmas. I have not eaten walnuts since, and have not had any breakouts. I have no other problems with nuts. I did have a problem with Crestor causing hives and now control cholesterol with diet.

  8. Mimi B.
    Reply

    I have what is called an “allergy” to cold. Exposure causes me to break out in hives on the skin areas that are coldest and all over if I go swimming in very cold water. Drinking icy beverages and ice cream does not cause any problems internally; my hives are strictly on the skin surface. Some research suggested that my problem is related to the adrenal glands, which normally trigger goose bumps when someone is chilled. I get hives instead.

    The solution to my problem is not in drugs or diet, but prevention and warmth. Since moving to South Florida from New England, I rarely have hives any more, unless I travel to a chilly area or we have a little cold snap, or I go swimming in a cold pool or ocean. If I must be in a cold environment, I can bundle up and so only exposed or thinly covered body areas will develop hives, such as on my face or legs [if I’m wearing light slacks]. My hives are unsightly and red, occasionally eliciting comments and questions from nosy people if I’m out and about and they itch, but that’s it. Luckily, they go away once I warm up. It takes about a half hour of warmth for them to disappear entirely.

    I have taken antihistamines on occasion, such as when skiing, but I’d prefer not to as they make me very drowsy. Could I stop skiing or swimming in cold water? Of course, but I don’t care to live that way. I can put up with my condition since I know the triggers and the cure, and most of the time, living in a warm climate, I’m symptom free.

  9. Barbara
    Georgia
    Reply

    After 20 years of receiving flu shots, I went in for the usual annual shot. Five hours later, I was covered from neck to knees with horrendous hives that lasted 4 months.

    I went to dermatologist, 2 internal med. dr. and finally an allergist. Skin pricking test showed no known allergies. He prescribed and OTC Allegra and they cleared up within days.

  10. Jennifer
    WI
    Reply

    After two years of unexplained itching and hives, I went to a contact dermatitis specialist (dermatologist) and got a patch test. About 100 patches were placed on my back and multiple allergies were found (chemicals, metals, and plants/essential oils-which I used daily).

    Many people are allergic to lavender (essential oils) and fragrances and can develop them later in life, according to my dermatologist. The compositae plant family was my big allergy, as well as nickel and propylene glycol (found in many beauty products and even brownie mix). I would highly recommend doing a patch test if you have not found results.

  11. Kathy
    Camp Verde, Arizona
    Reply

    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.

  12. Judith
    Seattle
    Reply

    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

  13. Jan
    NC
    Reply

    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
      OKC
      Reply

      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.

      • Rick
        Douglasville , GA
        Reply

        Did the benadryl cause you to be drowsy? During your six day period, I am assuming you did not go to work? Did you experience any side effects by taking all those medications together?

  14. Julie
    Indiana
    Reply

    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 doctors..no 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
      Dallas
      Reply

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

    • Linda
      KENT UK
      Reply

      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

  15. boyd
    tiger
    Reply

    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
      UK
      Reply

      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.

  16. Sandy
    Reply

    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!

  17. tgtcpht
    Reply

    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.

  18. A.G.C.
    Reply

    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.

  19. Anonymous
    Reply

    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
      Reply

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

  20. sstevens
    Reply

    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.

  21. Donnie
    Reply

    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.

  22. Barbara
    Reply

    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.

  23. WBT
    Reply

    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.

  24. Beth C.
    Reply

    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!

  25. JO
    Reply

    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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