Tips to Help You Manage Chronic Hives

Chronic hives, also known as chronic urticaria, is an uncomfortable skin condition marked by itchy red welts that can appear anywhere on your body. “About 85 percent of the time, we don't know what causes it,” says Miriam Anand, MD, an allergist with Allergy Associates and Asthma in Tempe, Arizona. When the cause of hives can’t be determined, the condition is known as chronic idiopathic urticaria. This poses a challenge when it comes to treating chronic hives, which by definition last longer than six weeks, and can sometimes come and go for years.

Besides causing discomfort, chronic hives can interfere with daily activities, but there are many ways to manage the condition — even if you don’t know its cause. Start with these steps to soothe or prevent the symptoms associated with chronic hives:

1. Avoid known triggers

  • Some foods, especially peanuts, eggs, nuts, shellfish, and some food additives
  • Certain pain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Physical stimuli such as pressure, temperature, exercise, and sun exposure
  • Bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections
  • Viral infections, such as the common cold and hepatitis
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen

If one or more of these allergens is found to be the cause of your hives, says Anand, your doctor will work with you to figure out ways to avoid exposure. “If a trigger isn’t found after testing, your doctor will look for other causes of chronic hives,” she adds. One of those could be an autoimmune condition — almost half of all cases of chronic hives are due to an overactive immune system, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Treating an underlying medical condition, says Anand, can help rid you of the symptoms of chronic hives.

2. Take your medications

3. Soothe your skin

The drier your skin is, the itchier it feels, tempting you to scratch. But scratching is one of the worst things you can do, says Anand, because it can aggravate your hives. To calm the itching, keep your skin moisturized, she says. Taking frequent baths can also help reduce itching and scratching, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

In addition, cooling the affected area can feel soothing to your skin (as long as cold temperature isn’t one of your hive triggers). There are many ways to cool your skin, including:

  • Applying an anti-inflammatory medication or cream, as prescribed by your doctor
  • Positioning yourself in front of a fan
  • Applying a cold compress

4. Wear loose, light clothing

Constant friction and pressure on your skin can worsen your hives, according to the ACAAI. Avoid wearing constricting clothing, tight belts, and even ill- fitting shoes — hives can also appear on the soles of your feet. Choose loosely fitting clothing in soft fabrics instead.

5. Talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement

6. Consider alternative therapies

Stress has been found to worsen hives, and techniques that promote relaxation, such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, can be good ways to reduce stress, says Anand. Some studies point to a potential link between acupuncture and a decrease in the symptoms of chronic hives, but more research is needed to confirm these findings.

7. Manage your emotions

When you have chronic hives, most of your efforts may naturally be directed toward managing visible symptoms. But don’t forget to address the condition’s invisible symptoms: Anxiety and depression often accompany chronic hives. “This stands to reason,” says Anand, “since living with a chronic condition can be challenging and uncomfortable.” Chronic hives has specifically been found to increase emotional distress, feelings of isolation, and fatigue. If these symptoms sound familiar, talking to a therapist may help you relieve some emotional pressure.

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Various medications have been designed to block the immune response that causes hives. Learn about your treatment options.

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