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How to Find Out What’s Causing Hives

Up to one in 10 people will experience an outbreak of hives at some point in their life. Here’s how to find out what’s triggering it.

It can be distressing to experience an outbreak of hives, especially when you don’t know the cause. Hives or urticaria, as it’s called in the medical world, affects up to one in ten people at some point in their lives. Most cases of hives are due to an allergic reaction, although this isn’t always the case. Sometimes viruses, autoimmune diseases, and even environmental factors such as exposure to heat or cold can cause an outbreak of hives. If you’re unfortunate enough to experience this common condition, how do you find out what’s causing it?

What Causes an Outbreak of Hives?

Hives or urticaria occurs when a trigger of some type causes release of a protein called histamine from cells in the blood stream known as mast cells. Histamine causes an inflammatory reaction which leads to large red blotches on the skin known as wheals to appear which can be quite itchy. Blood vessels also become leaky which causes swelling to occur. Although uncomfortable, an outbreak of hives can disappear as quickly as it appeared, although sometimes it will move around affecting different areas of the body. In rare cases, more serious symptoms can occur such as difficulty breathing or even shock.

How Do You Determine the Exact Cause?

The best way to determine the cause of an outbreak of hives is to keep an “allergy diary”. The objective is to write down everything you eat and drink along with medications you’ve taken as well as products and fabrics you’ve put on your skin. In most cases, if hives are allergic in nature, it’ll be something you were exposed to in the past twelve hours. Because foods are a common cause, particularly shellfish, nuts, and soy products; it’s important to document any foods you’ve tried and restaurants you’ve eaten in. Write down everything applied to the skin as well as medications and supplements taken. If you’ve worn new clothing or washed your clothes in a new detergent, note that too. Keep in mind that extremes in temperature and direct sunlight can trigger hives in some people. Insect stings and bug bites can also bring on a case of hives in sensitive individuals.

It may take several outbreaks of hives to pinpoint the cause, so be prepared to play detective for awhile. By keeping a regular allergy diary, you may be able to pinpoint the exact cause. It’s important to let your doctor know if you develop an outbreak of hives since, in very rare cases, life threatening symptoms can occur. It’s also a good idea to keep antihistamines on hand to treat the itching and swelling.

The Bottom Line

If an outbreak of hives becomes a chronic problem or the symptoms won’t go away, make an appointment for a thorough health evaluation to rule out underlying viruses or an autoimmune condition that could be causing the immune system to overreact. In some cases, allergy testing may be needed.  

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  1. A timely article, for me. My daughter had hives and has successfully treated it with a few simple home remedies that I would like to record here for the benefit of other sufferers. She drank cilantro juice and also applied it on her body. She reckoned that it was due to body ‘heat’ ( probably an Indian concept, not recognized by the western or the medical world) so she she took cooling oil massage for the head on successive days and rested adequately. In fact a good ‘oil bath’ as we call it leads to a good sleep. She is on her path to total recovery.

  2. We learn something new!

  3. I’ve had hives twice in my life, both caused by allergic reactions, the first time being from cephalosporins and the second time from Benadryl. Not fun. I was less than a year old the first time, but the second time what helped me was bathing in oatmeal a couple of times a day.

  4. I always like the things I learn from your well published informative posts. Thank you!

  5. Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing that.

  6. bees cause hives. at least, that is what I thought (grin!)

  7. Great article.
    Keep ‘em coming.

  8. I’ve never had hives, but now I know, whenever i get it I can come back to this article.

  9. i am pretty hardy, but suddenly last year i had about a 2 month stretch when i was running back and forth to the dr for adrenaline pills.

  10. Informative.

  11. I have hives at the moment, for the first time, and have no idea why. I’m finding Tiger Balm soon cures the itching when nothing else helps. It’s a horrible thing to suffer with…

  12. yeah i need to know the cause- im experiencing hives for the past one month on daily basis (timely). gosh…. i so hope i can find the “culprit” causing all these. the doctor have no bloody idea whats causing it and asked me to do the allergy test – schedule in 3 weeks time. I tried washing the bed sheets, stop eating seafood but still no luck!!.it happens while i was working in the office and also night time at home while using my lap top. im thinking, perhaps its the water im drinking or the shower gel im using. help!!!!!

  13. I had severe hive outbreaks several times in my life, but am now suffering with them again. As a teenager I had them for several months, was on antihistamines and cortisone that never fully got rid of them. I went to an allergist 3 times a week for IV histamine treatments to try to overload my body with them and still did not work. They had me move in with my dad to see if it was enviromental to figure it out. Well the culprit was all moldy foods. I was allergic to Pennicilin and became allergic to a list of foods associated with Penn. They included cheese, yeast (in everthing) vinegar, mushrooms, any processed meats. Those are the ones I can remember.

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