Known in medical terms as uriticaria, hives is a rash on the skin that is very itchy and red in color. Hives can occur anywhere on the body – from the face to the arms and legs and can vary in size from a few inches to a few millimeters. Hives could be a result of an allergic or non-allergic reaction and nearly twenty percent of children and adults develop hives at some point of time.

Angiodema is what occurs when a swelling deep in the skin accompanies hives. This swelling does not last long but its presence is quite dramatic when it occurs. Angiodema can attack the extremities as well as the eyes or lips.

There are two basic categories of hives – ordinary hives or acute uriticaria and chronic hives / uriticaria. The causes and symptoms of both types of hives differ, as does the treatment.

Hives Picture

Symptoms of Hives

An attack of hives can start off in part of the body and quickly move to another part. The rash has a tendency to appear and disappear with each individual outbreak not lasting for more than 24 hours at a time. An attack of hives can look quite alarming but it is also not uncommon for an outbreak to resolve completely by the time you see a doctor. No other skin condition has this characteristic of resolving by itself so rapidly. Before you visit your doctor, it may be wise to take a photograph of the outbreak at its worst so that he has something to base his diagnosis on. Symptoms of hives include:

  • The attack begins with red, raised, spongy welts on the skin that develop on a certain part of the body. These welts are itchy and may increase in size over time. Sometimes they even join together to form a large raised rash
  • Welts can also be painful and tender to touch, but if pressure is applied the welt will appear to turn white towards the center.
  • The rash forms in rings or patches all over the body. The area of redness that seems to outline the rash is called a flare
  • A hives rash tends to change shape over time and disappear and reappear on different parts of the body
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Irregular or rapid pulse
  • Increase in anxiety levels
  • Dizziness or fainting spells
  • Blackouts or loss of consciousness

Your doctor will be able to tell if you have hives by looking at your skin. If you suffer from any allergies and have a history of hives, it is even easier to reach a diagnosis. If you need to find out the cause of the allergic reaction, a blood test or a skin biopsy may be needed.

Causes of Hives

Hives are a common skin condition and rarely require serious medical intervention. Hives have a tendency to resolve on their own, but cause discomfort and pain during an attack. In very rare cases, hives may lead to a marked drop in blood pressure and shock. This is referred to as ‘anaphylactic shock’ and requires immediate medical treatment. Hives are generally caused by an allergic reaction to certain foods, medication or insect bites. There are also some cases of hives where no specific cause is determined. In such situations, changes to diet and lifestyle may help in preventing the condition. Contrary to popular belief, hives are not caused by stress or anxiety.

Hives occur when the mast cells in the skin release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream. Histamine is responsible for causing the blood vessels in the skin to leak and swell up. This results in the red, raised welts that are symptomatic of an attack of hives.Causes of hives include:

  • Hereditary factors that predispose a person to allergies and hives
  • Allergies to medications
  • Allergies to insect bites and stings
  • Food allergies (milk, eggs, nuts, and shellfish)
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Irregular functioning of the thyroid
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Lupus
  • Leukemia
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Chronic infections such as Urinary tract infections or sinusitis
  • Skin allergies to latex, animal dander or pollen

Remedies for Hives

The most popular treatment for relief from hives is an over-the-counter medication that contains antihistamine. These drugs help fight against an attack of hives and counter the release of histamine from the skin cells that causes the rash. However, antihistamines tend to have side effects such as drowsiness, especially in children. If you prefer an alternative hives treatment, there are several home remedies for hives that are not only effective but safe as well. Do keep in mind that not all home remedies are subjected to scientific testing and results can therefore vary considerably. Some popular methods of home treatment for relief include:

  • Applying a cold compress to the affected areas of skin can offer some relief from pain and itching. Cooling the skin can decrease the swelling and reduce the histamine content in the bloodstream. Avoid hot baths and showers during an attack of hives as this dilates blood vessels and increases the skin flare up. Stay away from direct sunlight as well as this can aggravate a hives attack.
  • An easy natural cure for hives is to soak a ball of cotton wool in milk of magnesia and apply the lotion all over the rash. Milk of magnesia has alkaline properties that help in soothing the skin and reducing the pain as well. In place of milk of magnesia, you can apply vitamin E oil for the same results. Repeat this process at least twice to three times a day.
  • Soak in a bath of lukewarm water with cornstarch and baking powder mixed in it. This combination offers the best hives relief and calms down irritated skin.
  • The stress and anxiety bought on by an attack of hives can be countered with herbal teas such as peppermint or chamomile tea. These teas also have sedative properties and can help soothe the pain and itching symptoms of hives. Other stress busting activities like yoga and meditation can also help.
  • Other natural remedies for hives include applying aloe vera gel on the affected skin or making a paste with oatmeal and cornstarch and coating the rash with it. Keep this paste on for thirty minutes before washing it off with water. Lotions containing aloe vera as an ingredient are also effective.
  • Strangely, swimming in chlorinated water is said to be beneficial in the treatment of hives. As hives are not contagious, swimming in a public pool would not be an issue either.
  • Mix a few drops of grapefruit seed extract with a cup of water and apply this infusion to the rash. This reduces itching and helps speed up recovery.
  • Sandalwood essential oil is effective in calming the skin and reducing itching. It cools the skin down and decreases the pain as well. Apply sandalwood oil to the rash every three to four hours for speedy results.
  • Mint oil cools the skin and reduces swelling and pain. Freeze fresh mint leaves and water to form ice cubes and place them over the rash for an alternative relief treatment. Make sure that you wrap the ice cubes in a cloth before applying them to the skin, as the direct application of ice can cause further skin damage.

Diet for Hives

Apart from avoiding certain histamine producing foods, you should also increase your intake food items that are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C can provide relief from symptoms of hives by reducing the production of histamine. Though there is no conclusive evidence that proves this, many people benefit from an increased vitamin C intake as it also boosts the immunity and helps fight an infection.

Keeping a daily food diary will help you pinpoint what foods are causing an adverse reaction and resulting in an attack of hives. Foods that contain large amounts of histamine or increase the release of histamine in the skin cells include shellfish, nuts, eggs, dairy, pineapple, chocolate, wine, and beer. These trigger foods should be completely avoided until you determine what exactly is causing the allergic reaction.

Foods that are fermented such as cheese, vinegar and alcoholic beverages also produce histamine and should be cut out of your daily diet. Some people may be allergic to additives and artificial colorings so over-processed and junk foods need to be avoided as well.

The following foods are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction:

  • Fish and shellfish
  • Smoked or cured meats such as sausages, salami, smoked ham, and bacon
  • Leftovers or foods that are spoilt are more susceptible to bacteria and can increase histamine production
  • Cheese, yogurt, and sour cream
  • Fruits such as oranges, limes, grapes, strawberries, pineapples, prunes and raisins
  • Vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, beans, and eggplant
  • Ketchup, relishes, pickle, and olives
  • Cloves, vinegar, curry and chilli powder and soy sauce

Suggestion for Hives

Apart from avoiding certain histamine producing foods, you should also increase your intake food items that are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C can provide relief from symptoms of hives by reducing the production of histamine. Though there is no conclusive evidence that proves this, many people benefit from an increased vitamin C intake as it also boosts the immunity and helps fight an infection.


  1. William E. Berger, HIVES: The Road to Diagnosis and Treatment of Urticaria, Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 92, Issue 5, May 2004, Page 582, ISSN 1081-1206, 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)61771-1.

Hives Treatments - more information
Hives - Frequently asked questions
10 Hives remedies suggested by our users
Relief from Hives
suggested by Peg on Thursday, June 19, 2008

I am very prone to hives and no certain trigger can be identified. I found a remedy in my Great-Grandmother's cookbook. 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar in a juice glass of water. Drink before breakfast. This normally calms my hives.

sasafrass tea
suggested by varline on Thursday, May 29, 2008

When my son came in contact with caterpillars he would break out in giant hives all over his body. THANK GOD FOR THE SASAFRASS TREE!!! I would make him a cup of tea and within 30 minutes the hives disappeared completely when Benadryl never did. Can be bought at your local grocers.

cold rags for hives
suggested by kelsey on Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I went in some hay and got the hives on the back of my legs so close together it looked like one big red/pink spot on the back of my legs so i took 2 cold rags and put them on the back of my legs for about 8-10 minutes and TOTALLY relieved itching.

Green Tea
suggested by [unspecified] on Friday, November 23, 2007

Green tea or green tea tablets help many people with hives. Try it! These tablets are very reasonably priced.

Hives Treatments. More...