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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Hives, medically known as urticaria, are raised white or yellow bumps surrounded by red, inflamed patches of skin. Hives usually cause a burning sensation at first, which soon gives way to intense itching. Aside from these symptoms, the course of hives is unpredictable. The rash may erupt suddenly and then disappear almost as quickly, or it may linger for weeks or even longer. It most often appears on the arms, the legs, or the trunk, but it can develop on any part of the body; sometimes it erupts in one place and then vanishes, only to appear somewhere else.

Although we don't tend to think of skin as an excretory organ, it actually plays a significant role in allowing toxins to pass out of the body. During the flu, for example, the body's temperature rises so that the virus can be expelled through a cleansing sweat. Just as poisons leave the body through sweat, they can also be excreted via skin eruptions like hives. Hives, like the symptoms of the flu, are an indicator that your body has detected a toxin and is trying to eliminate it.

An episode of hives is most frequently a response to an allergen or an irritant, which in either case is a normally harmless substance that produces a toxic response in your body. Possible allergens and irritants include insect bites, cosmetics, perfumes, detergents, and household cleaners. Certain foods may also trigger an allergic response. Shellfish are notorious for causing hives, but dairy, meat, and poultry are frequent instigators as well. Any food made with additives, preservatives, or pesticides may also produce a reaction. Some people with chronic or recurring cases of hives find that their triggers are frustratingly ubiquitous: heat, cold, sunlight, and stress have all been known to bring on a rash.

Drugs and viruses can also cause hives. Antibiotics, especially penicillin, cause hives in some unfortunate people; during a bacterial infection, they will need to work closely with their doctors to determine the best course of medical action. Lately, doctors have linked viruses like hepatitis B and Epstein-Barr to hives, and the fungus Candida albicans has also been known to trigger the disorder.

Some people suffer from reoccurring hives due to the effects of stress. In these cases, it is important for them to incorporate stress-reduction techniques into their lifestyle. Also, hives can be symptoms of more serious conditions, such as parasitic infections, hepatitis, cancer, hyperthyroidism, and rare blood disorders.

Anyone who sufferers from chronic or recurring hives should consider that his or her digestive system may not be functioning properly, thereby forcing the skin to throw off toxins that would normally be excreted by the intestines. A close review of dietary and lifestyle habits is in order.

The good news is that hives, although irritating and itchy, rarely pose a significant health threat. In almost all cases, they disappear from the skin without leaving a scar or other marks, and they do not damage any other organs. The best treatment is to identify the irritant or the toxin and then avoid it; you'll also want to employ methods that help you speed up the detoxification process. Sometimes, however, hives can cause the tongue and the throat to swell up; breathing becomes difficult, if not impossible. If you have hives and experience any trouble breathing or swallowing, you have a medical emergency. Call for medical help immediately. If you know that you are prone to severe hives, keep an emergency adrenaline kit on hand.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Hives

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