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Finding Relief for Hives

 That little welt itches and you try your best not to scratch it because when you do, it grows before your very eyes! If you are a truly hive prone person, just running your fingernail over normal skin can cause an itchy welt to form. And they all itch.

Whether your urticaria—better known as hives—is temporary or chronic, skin that's itchy, red, and irritated is not only annoying but can also be painful. There are many reasons for the appearance of hives, but the science is the same: a response within the body triggers histamines and cytokines in the skin. Because hives are usually the result of an allergic reaction, finding relief can be as simple as understanding what's causing your body to react and avoiding exposure to it.

There are many skin conditions with symptoms similar to hives. Successful treatment requires proper identification. Hives are well-demarcated pale-to-red raised areas of skin notable for their tendency to erupt and itch violently, only to resolve and reappear in other locations.

Most conventional urticaria treatments (e.g., antihistamines, corticosteroids, and antidepressants) aim to relieve the symptoms of hives without bothering to address the root cause. Worse, these treatments and their potentially toxic ingredients often do more harm than good. Topical steroid creams, for example, can lead to undesirable skin changes if used liberally over long periods of time.

Luckily for all you hives sufferers—we hear you scratching!—there are plenty of natural alternatives available to ease your symptoms.

What Is Known About Hives

To find the right treatment, you need to identify which kind of hives you're dealing with.

Acute. Most cases of acute urticaria are caused by an allergic reaction, but other triggers include heat or cold, exercise, and viral infections. Medications often responsible for urticarial allergic reactions include sulphonylurea glimepiride (Amaryl), dextroamphetamine, aspirin, ibuprofen, penicillin, clotrimazole, sulfonamides, and anticonvulsants.

Chronic. Urticarial outbreaks that come and go over periods of time (weeks to years) merit a deeper search for the underlying cause. Food allergies are among the most common causes of chronic hives, the primary culprits being fish, shellfish, berries, nuts, chocolate, tomatoes, eggs, milk, and food additives like salicylates, sulfites, and polysorbate. You'll know if you get a reaction within 30 minutes of eating an offending food. See Allergy Elimination Diet.

Other causes of hives include autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto's Disease (which might be caused by gluten or other food sensitivity), achlorhydria or hypochlorhydria (having no or diminished gastric acid secretion), and stress - that ever-present villain. Occult malignancy (cancer of unknown origin) is no longer thought to cause chronic urticaria. An association noted with increasing frequency is the association of abnormal MTHFR genes with a tendency to hives. This is an important association to identify, because people with abnormal MTHFR genes require special forms of folic acid and vitamin B12 for optimal health.

Several skin conditions resemble urticaria, so you must obtain the correct diagnosis prior to embarking on a treatment plan.

Do not confuse hives with angioedema, which causes swelling of the deeper layers of the skin. The bumps have less-distinct, more gradual borders. Angioedema represents a more threatening level of systemic allergy that can spread to the airways and should be addressed immediately.

With poison oak or ivy (rhus poisoning), blisters form after contact and do not resolve and relocate. Many of the topical applications listed below for hives will also work for rhus poisoning.

Similarly, a heat rash does not resolve and relocate, but it can spread.

Healthy Start: Hives—Quick Start

For the greatest improvement with the fewest steps, do the following:

  • Cool water. This simple solution can calm a flare-up of hives.
  • Cold packs. Apply an ice pack, bag of ice, or frozen vegetable packages (peas are best) wrapped in thin cloths to the hives for 10 minutes at a time.
  • Topical cream. Apply Herb Pharm Original Salve to areas affected by hives.
  • Therapeutic bathing. Add oatmeal or apple cider vinegar to your bath according to the instructions in the Hives—Full Program.

Healthy Steps: Hives—Full Program

A comprehensive hives relief program involves many areas in which action steps can be taken, gradually or all at once. Start by following DrDeborahMD's basic nutrition and healthy lifestyle guidelines, with the following modifications:

To Be Taken Internally

Natural substances with antihistamine effects include:

Therapeutic Bathing

  • Cool water. Taking a cool bath or shower is another simple way to calm skin inflamed by hives.
  • Oatmeal baths. There are commercial oatmeal bath additions available, but you can save money by trying one of these preparations. Wrap 2 cups of oatmeal in cheesecloth or nylon stocking and suspend under the bath tap, allowing the water to extract the active elements and sparing you from bathing amidst floating oatmeal flakes. You can also whirl oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it's a fine powder. Just dissolve the oatmeal dust in bathwater.
  • Apple cider vinegar. Add 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to your bath.
  • For rhus poisoning. Cool or very warm water can provide temporary relief from hives' itching sensation.

Topical Applications for Hives

  • Cold packs. Apply an ice pack, bag of ice, or frozen vegetable packages (peas are best) wrapped in thin cloths for 10 minutes at a time.
  • Baking soda poultice. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of aluminum-free baking soda in 4oz water . Apply liberally. Or apply apple cider vinegar undiluted topically with cotton pad.
  • Oatmeal poultice. Combine 2 cups oatmeal, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and enough water to form a paste. Apply and leave on skin for 15-30 minutes.
  • Topical cream. Apply Herb Pharm Original Salve to areas affected by hives.
  • Tea bag poultice. Black tea bags, especially Darjeeling, can soothe skin inflamed by hives. Boil 1/4 cup water per tea bag, allow to steep for 8 minutes, then remove and let cool briefly. Taking care not to burn already tender skin, apply the tea bag poultice to areas affected by hives for 15-20 minutes.
  • Jewelweed lotion. Dab a jewelweed lotion or spray a jewelweed solution on areas with hives.


is an effective alternative to antihistamines in the treatment of hives, without the well-known side effect of drowsiness! When treating hives, it is important to first recognize and consider removing any potential cause, such as a change in laundry detergent, an offending food (or food additive), or a newly prescribed medication (talk with your qualified health practitioner first).

For hives, match the best description to your hives and take the remedy 2-3 pellets twice daily for 3 days. Continue if the remedy is helping. (We alternate genders, but any remedy works for both genders and all ages!)


  • The most common remedy for hives. (A third of all cases.)
  • The skin is hot, swollen, red, itchy and burns.
  • Cold applications and a cold environment provide relief.
  • Hot applications and a warm environment make him worse.
  • He may seem restlessly busy and easily irritated.

Arsenicum Album

  • Burning hives with chills, worse from cold applications.
  • Worse eating shellfish and during nighttime.
  • Hives with nausea or diarrhea (or both).
  • Consider if there is a history of asthma.
  • She is restless and may be anxious.

Hepar Sulphuris

  • Chronic or recurring hives.
  • Very sensitive to cold, he wants to be warmly wrapped up.
  • Crops of fine, small hives with a sticking or pricking sensation.
  • In general, skin looks unhealthy, every little injury creates pus.
  • Hands, fingers, face and scalp affected.

Natrum Muriaticum

  • Is considered with chronic or recurring hives.
  • Hives look white and appear on hands, ankles and joints.
  • A strong craving for salt and salty foods is common.
  • Her skin is worse with heat.
  • Her mood tends toward sadness, but she resists consolation.

Rhus Toxicodendrun

  • Red, swollen and intense itching.
  • He is very sensitive to cold air/water on skin.
  • He is worse from getting wet.
  • He is better from heat and warm applications.
  • Hives with arthritic pain.


  • Hives with severe burning.
  • Throat, thighs and feet affected.
  • Better with cold applications or cold air.
  • Itching made worse from warmth.
  • She is worse at night, in bed, scratching or washing.

Urtica Urens

  • Violent itching with constant desire for rubbing.
  • Scalp, hands fingers affected.
  • White or pale raised hives, with red around the edges.
  • Hives worsened with heat, hot bathing and exertion.
  • Like Rhus tox, hives associated with arthritic pains.


The best way to prevent urticaria outbreaks is to identify your hives triggers. This may be challenging in the case of chronic hives. A process of elimination may be necessary, and even then, some causes may still remain mysterious.

In the meantime, eating a healthful diet, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and keeping stress in check will strengthen your body and provide resiliency, making hives easier to manage.

From Dr. Deborah's Desk

A friend of mine, a medical colleague, was troubled by recurrent batches of hives. They seemed worst for him when he was awakened by a medical emergency in the night, so he knew to check the mirror before he greeted the patient, just so he would know what they were seeing. There is a very small chance that an underlying medical problem can cause hives, and luckily all his testing came out normal.

But he was still left with the hives! He wanted something quick and certain, and ideally something that looked like a regular medical pill. He took Betaine HCL with meals for several months, happy with the results, until he seemed to forget he had ever had the hives, stopped the Betaine and luckily the hives never returned!

This information is provided for educational purposes only, and any individual diagnosis or treatment should be determined by you and your doctor. SeeAdditional Information.

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