Urticaria, also known as hives, is a skin reaction that causes itchy welts. These welts usually start as itchy patches before turning to swollen, red bumps that vary in size and shape. They can appear and fade at random as the reaction runs its course. Those with hives often find the condition uncomfortable, as it can interfere with sleep and daily activities.
What causes hives?
Urticaria can have several underlying causes, making it a complex condition to diagnose and manage. The welts that appear with hives are caused by the release of immune system chemicals, like histamine, into the bloodstream.
That is the start of an allergic reaction, which may be triggered by:
- Bug bites;
- Extreme heat or cold;
- Food such as milk, nuts, or shellfish
- Food additives like flavourings and preservatives;
- Pressure on the skin;
- Medications like aspirin or penicillin;
- Medical conditions, such as an allergy or infection;
- Skin contact with allergens
- Viral infections.
In the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the outbreak of hives is seen as a manifestation of internal imbalances disrupting the body’s natural flow of energy, or Qi, and could also be a sign of blood flow stagnation. These imbalances are generally attributed to an external invasion of wind-heat or wind-cold induced by lung and/or spleen Qi imbalance.
If the lung Qi is deficient, the invasion may occur through the skin or respiratory tract when the individual is exposed to pollens or irritants. Conversely, when the spleen Qi is affected, it means an accumulation of damp-heat, which manifests in the skin after exposure to specific triggers like shellfish. If the hives are chronic, it could be an internal stirring of wind and heat, which is associated with blood deficiency.
Signs and symptoms of hives
Symptoms of hives include:
- Batches of welts (wheals) that can appear on any area of the body;
- Flare-ups caused by allergen, exercise, heat, or stress;
- Intense itchiness (pruritus);
- Painful swelling (angioedema) around the eyes, cheeks, or lips;
- Welts that are red, purple, or skin-coloured, depending on your skin colour;
- Welts that appear and fade repeatedly, change shape, and vary in size.
Available TCM treatments for hives
TCM offers a range of treatments to address hives holistically, targeting both internal imbalances and external skin manifestations. Generally, a combination of lifestyle modifications, acupuncture, and herbal medicines is provided to manage the symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
1. Lifestyle modifications
TCM physicians will evaluate your lifestyle and recommend simple changes to help relieve itching. Examples include:
- Applying a cold compress to the affected area of the skin (unless you have cold hives);
- Applying gentle moisturiser regularly to prevent dry skin;
- Avoiding environments with extreme temperatures or high humidity;
- Avoiding allergens and triggers;
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes made from cotton fabric.
Research has demonstrated that acupuncture, a fundamental pillar of TCM, can help manage the symptoms of hives. The process involves inserting fine needles into specific acupoints to stimulate Qi flow and blood circulation, thus reducing inflammation and promoting overall skin health.
3. Herbal medications
Herbal medicine plays an integral role in treating hives. TCM physicians will assess your body constitution to determine the patterns of disharmony. Based on this information, the physician can prescribe specific formulas tailored to your needs to address different imbalances within your body.
FAQs about hives
1. Is there a permanent cure for hives?
There is no currently known cure for hives through conventional immunosuppressants. Nevertheless, this skin condition can be effectively managed with appropriate TCM treatments and lifestyle modifications. The primary goal of these treatments is to relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks, thus improving your quality of life.
2. Is it contagious?
Rest assured that hives are not contagious. While the condition is itchy and painful, it is not caused by a virus or bacteria. Therefore, they cannot be transmitted from one person to another through direct contact or other means.
3. How long will my outbreak of hives last?
A hives outbreak can last from several hours to a week or two. The duration maybe even longer if the hives are caused by an allergic reaction. You may also require medical treatment. In rare cases, chronic hives can last for months, even years. Consult a TCM physician if you experience hives that do not fade away on their own.
4. Does a hives outbreak mean I am allergic to something?
It is possible for a hives outbreak to be the result of an allergic reaction to something you were exposed to. However, it could also be caused by other factors, such as an infection, stress, or tight-fitting clothes. Consult a doctor to see if an allergy test is necessary to determine the cause of your symptoms, especially if the hives persist for more than a few days.