Hives -- Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies
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Hives  -- Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies

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January 26, 2011, last updated April 26, 2012
By LAUREN BUCKLEY, Contributing Columnist

Hives can range from itchy inconveniences to life-threatening inflammations. If you've experienced hives at some point, you're not alone.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, between 10 and 20% of people will suffer from hives at least once in their lives. 

When those uncomfortable welts appear, any number of environmental triggers could be the culprit --- the bee that stung you, the tuna sandwich you ate for lunch, or even the new detergent you used to wash your clothes.  The possible causes are so prevalent that it can be difficult even for a doctor to determine what irritated your skin.  Antihistamines are the most commonly prescribed treatment, but there are also a number of natural remedies that have been proven effective in the treatment of hives.

What are hives?

Hives, or urticaria, are itchy or painful welts that appear on the skin as the result of an allergic reaction. The welts can appear individually on different areas of the body, or several hives can cluster in a single area.  Hives can appear as red rash or bumps on your stomach, back, arms, chest, face, hands or other areas. The red rash can spread if you scratch it. The irritation generally subsides within twenty-four hours, but some can last for days, weeks, or even months.  Hives that remain for a long time or go away and return periodically are called chronic hives.

What causes hives?

Hives occur when cells lining the skin's blood vessels release a chemical called histamine.  This happens as the result of an allergic reaction, usually to foods, medications, or insect stings.  While the particular irritant remains unknown in most cases, there are several foods that are known to cause a reaction in some people.  The American Osteopathy College of Dermatology identifies nuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs, fresh berries, and fresh milk as common triggers. 

Nearly a quarter of the population experiences hives at some point in their lifetime, but the specific cause of this condition usually cannot be determined.  According to the American College Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, specialists can only verify the exact cause of hives 20% of the time. 

Even if you're unsure what is causing your hives, there are natural remedies that can relieve your irritation. 

What Are the Top 10 Natural Remedies for Hives?

1.    Elimination diet: The most obvious way to alleviate hives is to remove the allergen that causes the reaction.  If you cannot determine which allergen is causing your hives, you might benefit from an elimination diet.  Start by removing all of the common triggers from your diet, and then reintroduce them one by one to check for a reaction.  In a 1996 study by T. Zuberbier, et. al. at the University of Berlin in Berlin, Germany, 73% of patients experienced a reduction or complete disappearance of symptoms after only two weeks on an elimination diet. 

2.    Less stress: High levels of stress are known to interfere with the immune system, which can result in hives.  Reducing the stress in your life and finding healthy ways of managing stress have been shown to alleviate cases of chronic hives.   In a 2008 study, researchers Malhotra and Mehtra at Guru Gobind Singh Medical College in Punjab, India found a significant link between chronic hives and high levels of emotional stress.

3.    Vitamin D: A vitamin D deficiency has recently been linked to chronic cases of hives.  In a 2011 study at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, Nebraska, Dr. Jill Poole found that patients who suffered from chronic hives also had significantly lower levels of vitamin D than patients who did not.  Supplementing your diet with vitamin D might reduce the incidence of hives.

4.    Betaine Hydrochloride: Preliminary studies in 1951 by Rawls and Ancona associated hives with low levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.  Betaine Hydrochloride is a hydrochloric acid supplement that comes in tablets or capsules.  Your doctor can help you to introduce this supplement into your diet.

5.    Green tea: According to the University of Michigan Health System, two chemicals in green tea called ECG and EGC have been shown to act like a natural antihistamine, reducing histamine levels in the body.  A 1997 study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed a link between these chemicals in green tea and lowered levels of histamine.  Since hives appear when histamine is released into the skin, reducing the levels of this chemical in your body might alleviate your symptoms.  Try drinking three cups of green tea per day to get rid of your hives.

6.    Vitamin C: High doses of vitamin C might also reduce the appearance of hives by lowering your histamine levels.  This theory has not yet been confirmed by clinical trials, but many people have found vitamin C supplements effective in treating their hives.  You'll need to take 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C in order to affect your histamine.

7.    Vitamin B-complex: In addition to green tea and vitamin C, vitamin B-complex supplements reduce histamine levels.  These supplements are sometimes used as an effective treatment for hives.

8.    Vitamin B12: The University of Michigan Health System reports that injections of vitamin B12 have been linked to the alleviation of both acute and chronic hives.  Injections of 1000 micrograms were reported to reduce symptoms.  Oral B12 supplements have not yet been tested in clinical trials.

9.    Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been used to treat skin conditions such as hives for over 2000 years.  In a 2006 double-blind, placebo-controlled study at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Isfahan, Iran, patients who received genuine acupuncture experienced greater relief from symptoms than patients who received fake acupuncture.  Acupuncture treatments are normally accompanied by herbal medicine and dietary recommendations.

10.    Hypnosis: Hypnosis has also been used to treat hives.  Hypnosis is thought to eliminate stress, which has been strongly linked to hives.  In 1987, Shertzer and Lookingbill found that hypnosis and relaxation therapy alleviated hives both immediately and long-term.  This may be one way of relieving your hives by reducing your stress.

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