Ways to help soothe itchy hives

Hives is an itchy and raised rash that often looks like you have been badly stung by nettles. It can be a real nuisance and can literally come from out of the blue for no obvious reason. With its relentless itchiness, dealing with hives can be really challenging and unpleasant. Why do some people get hives in the first place and what can we do to help ease the discomfort they bring?

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What are hives?

Hives, medically known as urticaria and often referred to as nettle rash, is very common and affects one in five people at some point in their lives. It occurs when histamine and other chemicals from mast cells are released from under the skin’s surface, causing the tissues to swell. It manifests itself through patches of raised bumps on the skin which range from a centimetre to several centimetres across and can be pale, pink or darker, depending on skin colour. They can appear anywhere on the body, and their shape and size can also vary.

Hives are often extremely itchy and uncomfortable, often feeling like a sting or burn, and in some instances can lead to swelling in the feet, hands and face, known as angioedema. It can be so severe that it becomes difficult to focus on anything else and scratching only offers short relief. Hives can last from a few hours to up to six weeks and chronic hives for longer. In severe cases, hives can be part of a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This requires immediate medical attention.

What are the common causes of hives in children?

The causes of hives in children can range from viral and bacterial infections to allergic reactions and irritants. It can also be stress related and chronic urticaria may be strongly linked to certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Surprisingly, in over 30 per cent of cases, the exact cause of hives remains unknown, but common known causes are as follows:

  • Viral infections – the most common culprit behind widespread acute hives is a viral infection. Flu, Epstein Barr (glandular fever), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Covid are some of the viruses that can trigger hives and urticaria. These hives typically accompany other viral symptoms such as a fever, cough or diarrhoea and can last for about three days. Sometimes the hives appear a few days after all the other symptoms have died down.
  • Bacterial infections – certain bacterial infections, such as strep throat or urinary tract infections can lead to hives. Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the stomach or a dental infection can too.
  • Parasitic infections – Chronic urticaria can be triggered by common amoebic parasites such as Blastocystis hominis, Giardia as well as round worm and tape worm infections.
  • Allergic reactions – allergies to some medication, certain foods, bee stings, or even pet saliva can trigger hives in susceptible people.
  • Environmental factors – skin contact with irritants like plants and pollen as well as insect bites can cause localised hives.
  • Nutrient deficiencies – studies have found very marked vitamin and mineral deficiencies in both children and adults prone to hives and urticaria, especially when they are chronic, regularly reoccur or do not go away easily on their own. The good news is that things improve and stabilise when these nutrients are replenished. These nutrients include low vitamin D, zinc, iron and vitamin B12 levels. Some studies cited suggest that long-term hives maybe due to a chronic vitamin C deficiency.

Natural ways to ease the itching

There are several natural remedies that can provide gentle relief to hives whilst they are itchy and flaring up, which you can try at home:

  • Oat sock bath – fill a clean sock with oats and tie it to the tap of the bath. As you run the bathwater, let it pass through the oat-filled sock. Bathing in this water can provide relief from itching and pain associated with hives.
  • Bicarbonate of soda – adding bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to your bath can help soothe irritated skin and reduce itching.
  • Aloe vera gel – known for its soothing properties, applying aloe vera gel directly to the hives can help ease itching and inflammation. Occasionally people can be sensitive to aloe vera, so do a small patch-test first.
  • Nettle tea – mother nature has a reputation for treating like with like and drinking nettle tea can help reduce the nettle rash-type symptoms of urticaria. You can add honey to nettle tea or blend it with fruit to make a smoothie or nettle ice lolly for children. 

While these home remedies can offer topical relief, it is crucial to monitor your condition closely. If hives persist or worsen, or if you have trouble breathing or swallowing, then please seek medical attention immediately.

How diet and nutrition can help chronic hives

  • Increase intake of flavonoids – incorporating foods containing flavonoids such as quercetin and luteolin can help dial down the high histamine response. Quercetin-rich foods include apples, red onions, red peppers and pea shoots. Luteolin-rich foods include celery, parsley, broccoli, spring onions, carrots, bell peppers, cabbages and apple skins and chrysanthemum flowers. Supplements containing quercetin may also help address underlying histamine issues, potentially reducing the frequency and severity of hives over time.
  • Replenish nutrient shortfalls – there are some key nutrients that help to build a strong and balanced immune system and can help to keep a high histamine state and mast cell activation in check. These include vitamin C, D and B12 as well as minerals such as iron and zinc and increasing your intake of foods that are rich in these nutrients can help.

    Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, parsley and raw red peppers; vitamin D from the sun as well as eggs, oily fish, organic whole milk and grass fed meat; vitamin B12, iron and zinc again are from offal, red meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and dairy. If you are regularly prone to hives, sometimes diet alone is not enough and food supplements are needed for a few months, to help correct any shortfalls in these vitamins and minerals.

    Sometimes there may be some gut issues preventing the absorption and assimilation of these nutrients, such as the presence of H Pylori bacteria, Coeliac disease or gut malabsorption. Nutrient shortfalls and underlying gut function difficulties, as well as chronic bacterial and parasitic infections can be investigated via testing through a nutritional therapist or naturopath. They will guide you on how to optimise your levels through gut health support as well as supplements until the nutrient levels are up to normal range. It can take a few months to get there, but this step is worth doing for long-term prevention.

Round Up

Hives can be irritating and uncomfortable for anyone, but understanding the causes and implementing natural remedies can go a long way in providing relief. From aloe vera gel to oat-filled baths and dietary supplements, there are various ways to ease the discomfort of hives. If hives are chronic or wax and wane, you may want to investigate further into nutrient deficiencies and have a gut function and microbiome check. With a little extra care and attention, you can find comfort and relief from natural remedies to ease those pesky hives.

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