Urticaria, commonly recognised as 'hives' is an outbreak of red and prickly bumps that suddenly appear on the skin. The reasons could be due to certain allergies, or at times for unknown reasons. The bumps or rash may vary in size and cause severe itching; it may also cause burning on the skin, causing discomfort as well as disturbing one's daily routine. The bumps/ wheals may suddenly appear anyplace on the body - the face, hands or legs even the lips, tongue, ears, or throat. The swelling of lips, eyelids, genitals can be painful, and swelling of throat/wind pipe can cause breathlessness which is an emergency and the patient has to be rushed to hospital. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may last for a few hours, or fade away after the reaction runs its course. Usually an Urticaria reaction lasts for less than 24hours and fades off only to recur at same or other area. If Urticaria lasts beyond 72hours, one has to find the causes beyond skin (involving inflammation of blood vessels), called as Urticarial Vasculitis.
What are its causes?
Urticaria is a type of skin allergy. Allergy means body's hyper response to normal, common, harmless stimuli like dust, dirt, cat fur, pollen, change of weather etc. Urticaria ensues when the body reacts to the release of histamine which is found in the body's cells or other chemicals into the bloodstream. Inflammation is caused due to histamine, and fluid accumulates under the skin eventually causing 'hives or welts'. It is said that "anything under the sun, including the sun can cause Urticaria". Sometimes its very easy to find the cause, when Urticaria erupts immediately after ecposure to allergen, but sometimes it takes long history taking in OPD, or systematic diary entries for days & weeks to pin point the cause. However, the common triggers to this reaction are:
- Reaction to medication such as antibiotics or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or vaccines
- Insect stings
- Change in temperature or extreme temperatures
- Food - shellfish, nuts, Wheat products, food additives, cow milk protein etc.
- Secondary infections
- Exposure to sunlight
- Pollen/ dust mites
- Animal-related allergies
- Chronic illness - Thyroid
What is the treatment?
Hives are treated using anti-histamines, this nullifies the effect of histamine. It is to be used regularly for a few weeks, as prescribed. Chronic hives are generally treated using anti-histamines or a combination of medications.
To reduce the irritation caused by Urticaria, wear loose or light clothing
Avoid scratching and aggravating the condition
Avoid common triggers like dust, dirt, weeds, wool, sweating, dryness of skin, excessive protein in foods
Have bath with tepid water (neither too hot, nor too cold) with a bath oil, and stay away from harsh soap detergents
Compress the area with cold water or apply moisturizing lotion to soothe & moisten the area
Foods that are known to trigger histamine production include fish, dairy, fish, processed foods, chocolate, Spinach & Strawberries - avoid these
It is important to seek emergency medical care if you experience trouble breathing (breathlessness), dizziness, swelling in the lips/ tongue, or tightness in the chest
Hives & stress: Emotional stress may cause This is known as Stress-Induced Urticaria. Extreme stress at times may also be responsible for Chronic Urticaria. An example is a patient who had been Asthmatic for many years, started developing Urticaria recently; she would not have urticarial bouts on days when she was engrossed in her art, the day she got back to routine work and life without the one hobby that mentally relaxes her, the Urticaria would come back.
Skin is the mirror of internal body and mind. Hence, it is very important to find and treat the root cause (within the body and mind) to cure the skin problem.
Disclaimer: The article is for educational and informational purposes only. It does not constitute as medical advice. Please consult a doctor before starting any treatment.