What Are Your Hives Telling You?
If you or your child has ever experienced an outbreak of hives, you know how unpleasant it can be. The good news is that hives are rarely life-threatening. The bad news is that they usually indicate that the body is not as healthy as it should be, and needs some serious TLC (tender loving care). Without that, you can expect hives to recur, and each time, it will probably get worse. As you read through this article, I hope you will be convinced that recurring hives are one way that your body-mind is signalling to get your attention.
Hives (also known as urticaria) is a rash with raised bumps that can be small like mosquito bites or the size of a plate. They can occur in the skin of the body or face, including the mouth, on the tongue or throat, or even in the stomach. Most hives disappear within minutes or hours, but some can remain for much longer. Some individuals get hives off and on for years, though that is relatively uncommon. Children are more likely than adults to develop hives, but adults also get them.
What Is Happening In The Body?
Hives are the result of inflammation of the tissues, which is caused by irritant chemicals such as histamine. Inflammation is actually one of the body’s best healing mechanisms. Special cells embedded in the mucous lining of the skin, nose, eyes, lungs, and gut release histamines that help destroy any parasites that might be causing infection. They also cause fluid to leak out of the blood vessels so that the blood vessels constrict to stop bleeding. This is what causes the swelling that is one of the four signs of inflammation:
However, if a person’s immune system has been weakened by infections, illness, stress, or allergies, this inflammation process can be disrupted, and may occur at random or in response to triggers that should not normally cause such a response.
What Sets Off An Outbreak Of Hives?
It is likely that some cases of hives are of this kind – an over-reaction to something by the immune system. So we see hives arising in some people after certain foods (such as strawberries) or drugs (such as aspirin or arthritis medication) are swallowed, or after physical contact with things such as plants or animals. One category of hives called physical urticarias result from stimulation to the skin cold, heat, water, tight clothing, sweat, or in rare cases, the sunlight. Stress can also set off an outbreak of hives. On the other hand, some kinds of hives appear to have no triggers at all, but just come up now and then.
Strangely enough, some doctors do not relate hives to allergy all, though chronic or recurring inflammation is almost always a sign of allergy. If an allergic reaction occurs near the skin, you will often see inflammation, and hives is a very common example. But not all hives are due to allergy. Hives can also be associated with diseases. For example, sensitivity to sunlight has been associated with lupus, and other autoimmune diseases and leukemia some times cause hives.
The point is that even when no reason can be identified, hives is a sign that something is out of order in your body or mind. It could be:
• allergy to something (which is a further indication of some problem in the body, such as toxin overload or damage to the tissues, or a weak immune system)
• stress overload
• hyper-sensitivity to stimuli such as cold, heat or alcohol
• lack of something such as an enzyme that your body needs to function properly
• an underlying disease such as lupus or leukemia
In certain situations, though, such as contact with highly irritating plants such as poison ivy, hives is a very normal and healthy reaction – a warning to stay away.
Are Hives Dangerous?
Hives that occur on the skin or mouth are not usually dangerous, just irritating, and the swelling of the mouth can be a little embarrassing. However, swelling of the throat and tongue accompanies 1 in 3 cases of hives. This kind of internal swelling (called angioedema) can be dangerous because it can cause breathing problems that require urgent medical attention.
Angioedema can also occur in the tissues of the stomach, causing stomach cramps or severe pain, or in joint tissues, where it can cause pain or a burning sensation. Sometimes, angioedema occurs as part of an allergic reaction with or without hives. It can also be genetic in origin, where lack of a particular enzyme results in swelling without itchiness.
Hives tend to grow more severe with each attack, therefore it is important to prevent future outbreaks as much as possible. That’s why it is important to take note of what leads to hives in you or your child.
• Avoid foods or substances known to trigger hives. One way to determine which foods trigger hives is an elimination diet. Highly allergenic or suspected foods are eliminated from the diet for 4-7 days, then re-introduced one at a time. Note any adverse reactions to the foods as they are reintroduced. Avoid those foods.
• Sensitive people should avoid stimuli known to cause a rash or hives, such as heat, sunlight, alcohol, spicy food, cold
• The itching can be relieved with cool compresses, or perhaps with topical lotions.
• Antihistamines can be used to reduce the itch or swelling
• If serious throat swelling occurs, your doctor might prescribe a steroid or other drug
However, like all abnormal reactions, hives indicates that something is not quite right within the body-mind. Building good health with a diet of healthful, preferably uncontaminated (organic) foods, drinking lots of water to flush out toxins, living a balanced lifestyle that includes relaxation, exercise and rest, and frequently clearing your mind of stress will go a long way to preventing hives.
You should also seek the assistance of a professional health practitioner who can identify and help you correct any underlying health problems. Good health is worth cultivating.