Have you had hives?

UNDER YOUR SKIN By Grace Carole Beltran, MD

Hives or wheals (pantal pantal) are a fairly common occurence.  That makes me assume that one way or another, each and every one of us would have had it once in our lifetime. Hives are extremely itchy, raised red or white welts on the skin.  They may present themselves differently in different individuals.  The size varies, from small goose bumps to large swellings that cover large areas of the body. It can suddenly appear as a solitary wheal on the lips upon accidentally biting on it even in a subtle way.  It can appear on someone’s thigh while jogging or it may even appear on an emotional wife who is currently arguing with her husband.  It can also appear on the butt of an individual sitting for quite a while, while finishing a project on his computer.  Worse, it can appear all over the body so suddenly, when you least expect it and disappear even without treatment.  But it may recur regularly if the cause is not identified and eliminated.  Hives can simply appear anytime and anywhere, solitary or multiple, as tiny as the size of a pea or as wide as the map of the Antarctica.  They appear in various shades — a light pink rash or a red- or plum- colored rash.  Sometimes they heal with pigmentation or bruise and may present as itchy or painful. Their scientific name is urticaria.

What causes hives?

Hives are often an allergic reaction to something you have eaten, touched or inhaled. In an allergic reaction, the body releases a chemical called histamine to attack the foreign substance.  Hives develop in response to the high histamine levels as the affected area is swollen with blood.

Allergens that most commonly provoke hives include foods such as strawberries, fish or nuts, drugs such as penicillin and aspirin, and various food additives, emulsifiers, flavorings or preservatives.  To pinpoint the cause of a food allergy, it may be helpful to keep a diary to record the link between the foods eaten and the allergic reactions such as hives or sneezing.    

Some people develop hives in response to stress, insect bites, extreme temperatures, or even pressure on the skin (such as from tight clothes). Clothing materials, such as wool or animal fur, can also cause hives, as can the substances in the materials such as dust mites, dyes, preservative chemicals, and soap residues.  Soaps, skin treatments and makeup products can also cause hives and rashes.

Infectious organisms, such as Hepatitis B virus, Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of glandular fever), the fungus Candida, and a variety of bacteria, have also been associated with hives. In cases such as these, the sufferer must be treated for the infectious organisms as well as the hives.

There are actually two types of hives: acute and the chronic.  A hive often goes away in 24 hours or less.  New hives then may appear as old ones fade, so the appearance and disappearance of hives may last for a few days or longer.  A bout of hives usually lasts less than six weeks. These hives are called acute hives.  If  hives last more than six weeks, they are called chronic hives and usually last for two to five years. Acute hives often result from an allergy, but they can have many other causes. 

A  hive may go away in 24 hours or less,  but sometimes, a third comes in similar to hives in appearance, but it’s not really hives, we call it urticarial vasculitis (UV), which means that there are other things to look for, some other conditions that would bring about their appearance (hives that last for more than 24 hours and may persist for several days even with treatment sometimes). 

Lifestyle change can minimize hives

When you have hives, there are several things you can do to reduce the severity and longevity of the symptoms.  Wear loose, comfortable clothing, because the pressure of tight clothes or belts when your body is in a hyper-sensitive state may lead to more hives.  Stay cool and drink lots of water.  Overheating and sweating can make the hives worse. Resist the temptation to cover the area with creams as this can further irritate the skin by trapping the heat.  Avoid eating foods that may make the condition worse.

The most important course of action against hives is to identify the irritating substances and reduce contacts with them as much as possible.  This is often easier said than done, as most people with allergies are allergic to more than one substance.  Keeping a diary of foods consumed and products worn, along with the resulting reactions, can be very useful in identifying and eliminating irritants from one’s life.

Likewise, take steps to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension in your life and work to improve your overall health. For this, adequate rest and sensible levels of exercise are essential.  Meditation can also reduce the effects of stress.  And, of course, in case of stubborn hives, visit a board-certified dermatologist.

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For questions or inquiries, call 09174976261, 09998834802 or 263-4094, or email gc_beltran@yahoo.com.

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