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What Causes Urticaria? Or Hives To You Or Me!

Sussex health expert

Urticaria, or hives, is an allergic reaction in the skin which causes white or pink welts or large bumps surrounded by redness. These welts are known as “wheal and flare lesions” and are caused primarily by the release of histamine in the skin. People with hives may also have wheezing, or swelling of the eyelids, lips, tongue, or throat. About 50% of people with chronic hives develop angioedema – this is a deeper, more serious form of hives which involves the tissue below the surface of the skin.

There are many triggers that lead to the release of histamine from white blood cells, such as:

  • Some foods (see below) and plants
  • Medications, such as antibiotics (especially penicillin and sulfa), aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Physical stimuli, such as pressure, cold, heat, exercise or sun exposure
  • Latex
  • Blood transfusions
  • Bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections and strep throat
  • Viral infections, including the common cold, infectious mononucleosis (Glandular fever) and hepatitis
  • Pet dander and pollen

Urticaria is classified as acute or chronic, depending on how long the rash has been there. Acute hives usually resolves without treatment. Chronic urticaria can be caused by the same things that cause acute urticaria. Other possible causes include autoimmune diseases and chronic infections.

Sussex Health Expert

Holistic treatment options

Stress may play an important role in the development of hives by decreasing the effectiveness of the immune system that would normally block allergic reactions. Relaxation therapy and hypnosis have proved effective in reducing the incidence of flare-ups.

Bicarbonate of soda baths (run a shallow bath containing no oils or perfumes and throw in two large handfuls of bicarbonate of soda; then soak in the water for 15 minutes) provide immediate relief from itching. They also help to alkalinize the skin, preventing further irritation and burning. Aloe vera, applied topically, reduces inflammation and provides a protective coating to the skin. It is cooling to the tissues, relieves itching, redness, stinging and pain.

Sussex Health Expert

Dietary modification

Allergies to foods and food additives is a common cause of hives, especially in chronic cases. The foods most often reported to trigger hives are:

  • dairy products
  • eggs
  • chicken and cured meat
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • shellfish
  • nuts

Food additives that have been shown to trigger hives include:

  • colourants (azo dyes)
  • flavourings (salicylates)
  • artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
  • preservatives (benzoates, nitrites, sorbic acid)
  • antioxidants (hydroxytoluene, sulphite, gallate)
    emulsifiers/stabilizers (polysorbates, vegetable gums)

Numerous clinical studies have shown that diets free of the foods and food additives that commonly trigger allergic reactions produce significant reduction in symptoms in 50–75% of people with chronic hives.

Sussex Health Expert

Nutritional supplement treatment options

Bromelain extracted from pineapple – has been shown to be effective as an anti-inflammatory in repeated trials. It decreases the allergic response and accelerates healing. Bromelain has been found to be non-toxic even in large doses.

Quercetin is a non-toxic, potent antihistamine bioflavonoid, which decreases inflammation caused by allergic skin conditions, as well as hay fever and asthma. Quercetin has shown to be useful both during an acute outbreak of urticaria, and also as a preventative measure.

Betaine Hydrochloride – lack of hydrochloric acid (HCl) secretion in the stomach is often found in association with chronic hives, presumably because the deficiency increases the likelihood of developing food allergies.

Green Tea –two components of green tea (the polyphenols epigallocatechin (EGC) and epicatechin gallate (ECG)) have been shown to have an antihistamine effect.

Vitamin B12 has been reported to reduce the severity of acute hives as well as to reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks in chronic cases.

Vitamin B-Complex can reduce the severity of hives, especially when used in conjunction with HCl.

Vitamin C taken at high doses (2000mg) may help people with hives by lowering histamine levels.


Botanical treatment options

Curcumin (Turmeric/Curcuma longa) there are increasing amounts of research that confirms curcumin’s ability to stimulate the body’s production of its own anti-inflammatory corticosteroids. It is therefore an effective natural antihistamine and antioxidant for hives, as well as a variety of other inflammatory skin ailments.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) clinical trials have shown that ginger has potent anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects. It also appears to relieve swelling and remove the inflammatory waste products associated with hives.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) has a fast-acting antihistamine function, providing symptomatic relief for hives. It is particularly effective in reducing associated oedema.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) assists in the clearance of cellular and lymphatic debris and reduces tissue swelling. It has proven efficacy against skin problems such as hives, acne, boils, eczema and psoriasis.

Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) contains potent flavonoids that are anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory. It has a cooling effect on the heat and inflammation associated with hives.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has both antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties and increases levels of cortisone in the body. It can be used locally on the skin, taken internally, or both.
Use only under medical supervision in the case of high blood pressure.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to alleviate hives, eczema and swollen tissues.

Sussex Health Expert

Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved.  Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit  for all your nutritional supplement needs

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