Just about anything can make you break out in hives: Foods such as peanuts or strawberries, drugs such as penicillin or aspirin, vitamin supplements, heat, cold, sunlight, exercise, fever, stress, and even scratching or rubbing the skin are among some of the possibilities.
Some substances actually cause an allergic reaction that results in hives, while others have absolutely nothing at all to do with allergies. Strawberries, for example, contain a chemical that can cause cells in your body to release histamine, a chemical also produced in allergies, which allows blood plasma to leak into the skin and form the hives. In this article, we'll scratch the surface and talk about methods to ease and prevent hives.
Sometimes only a tiny amount of the culprit is needed to set off a reaction. For example, you may have a sensitivity to seafood but break out after eating a steak -- simply because the steak was cooked in a pan that had earlier been used to fry fish.
Don't confuse hives with other skin eruptions. Hives (or urticaria, as the doctors call them) occur when blood plasma leaks into the skin, causing "wheals," or swollen areas. They can be as small as a pencil eraser or as large as a dinner plate, and they usually last only a few hours. But new wheals may form continuously. And as they form, they often itch.
An attack of hives generally lasts a short time, often just a few days. Some people, however, may be plagued with recurrent outbreaks. They may want to do some detective work to find the cause. And some people have chronic hives -- hives that can persist for years.
Those Annoying Allergens
Because hives are an allergic reaction, your best bet in preventing future flare-ups is finding the source of the problem. You'll need to do a little detective work to figure out what caused your itchy bumps. But if you can't put your finger on the culprit, you're not alone: About 50 percent of the time the trigger is undetermined. To help your investigation along, here's a look at the primary causes of hives. Perhaps you'll be lucky and discover the source of your itchy bumps below:
Foods. Certain foods are more likely to cause a heaping helping of hives. Strawberries are a problem for many people because they promote the production of histamine in the body. Other well-known hive producers are nuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs, fresh berries, and milk. If you're going to have an itchy reaction to food, it will probably happen within 30 minutes of eating it.
Food additives. Food colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and emulsifiers or stabilizers in some foods can cause a hive outbreak. If you think food additives might be the reason your skin's so red, look for ingredients such as salicylates, sulfites, and polysorbate on the label of any processed foods you've eaten.
Medications. Penicillin and aspirin are the two most common drug offenders. Penicillin and other antibiotics are the number one cause of drug-related hives.
Heat. Getting too hot by spending too much time outside on a summer day or by exercising are two causes of heat-induced hives. Sometimes known as "prickly heat," these heat-related hives calm down as your body temperature returns to normal.
Cold. Sticking your arm in ice cold water may cause cold-induced hives. These hives happen when you're exposed to cold objects or water, or even when you step outside on a cold, blustery day. Like heat-related hives, your oversize chill bumps will disappear once your body temperature normalizes.
Insect bites or stings. Components of insect venom are allergenic. Some people have a systemic (bodywide) reaction to these components that produces hives.
Infections. Bacterial, viral, and yeast infections can cause an outbreak of hives. Fever is also related to hive production.
Everyday objects. Sometimes hives simply happen from pressure on the skin; from contact with everyday objects such as furniture, towels, watch bands, or bedsheets; or from wearing clothing that's too tight.
Stress. Many people find that stress triggers an episode of hives.
Diseases. Hives can be a symptom of thyroid disease, hepatitis, lupus, and even some cancers. That's why you shouldn't ignore a lingering case of the hives.
What Are Your Chances of Bumping Into Hives?
If you've never had a run-in with the itchy inflammation, you've got a 20 percent chance that you'll end up with it at sometime in your life. Young adults are most likely to get hives. Children and adults are at the same risk for getting the itchy red patches, but from different sources. Kids seem to get hives from food allergies or infections, while adults tend to break out in hives in reaction to a medication.
Whether or not you can uncover the source of your hives, there are some items in your kitchen that can help relieve your symptoms while you're investigating. In the next section, we'll review various home remedies to bring you some much-needed relief if you are experiencing irritating hives.
To learn more about avoiding allergens and dealing with allergic reactions, visit the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- To learn more about the science of allergies, read How Allergies Work.
- Learn about kitchen cures to battle allergic reactions in Home Remedies for Allergies.
- Read Home Remedies for Dermatitis to learn about treating and avoiding skin rashes.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.