Rashes and hives can affect anyone, of any age. The appearance of strange red spots or welts that are itchy can be a shocking and disturbing experience, and usually your first thought is “what on Earth is this from?”.
The medical term for hives is urticaria. Hives are due to allergy, the result of an immune reaction and the body’s release of compounds such as histamine. This can be a reaction to a food, a food additive or component, or to physical conditions such as heat or cold or pressure. Sometimes hives can also develop in reaction to medications, or infections. Stress is also a major player and can bring on hives all by itself, or can make you more sensitive to being reactive to other triggers.
Hives and rashes can be short-term or long-term. Either way, identifying your triggers and getting these under control is of the utmost importance when it comes to treatment!
Some people who get hives are all too aware of their triggers, such as those prone to heat-rash. Others may suddenly get hives or rashes and be completely perplexed.
In regards to foods and food additives, some common culprits are our usual suspects (fish, eggs, nuts, dairy), while others are not so well known. Preservatives such as sulfites and benzoates, colourings such as tartrazine, as well as flavourings, emulsifiers and antioxidants used in processed foods have all been associated with hives. Unfortunately, it is increasingly hard to avoid all food additives, so identifying which ones are specifically your trigger can be extremely useful.
Naturopathically, identifying triggers is actually only the first step. Ideally once reactive substances are identified and removed, the next steps involve improving digestive function, rebalancing the immune system, and making sure nutrient levels are optimal. Hives may not only be the result of a single trigger, but a complex interplay involving diet, digestive health, adrenal and immune status.
There is increasing research into the bugs (‘good’ and ‘bad’) that live in our digestive tract and their role in our immune system. Digestive function that is less that optimal can also make us more sensitive and prone to skin reactions; this is because if we don’t break down foods completely, the body doesn’t know what to with these fragments and may launch an immune response to the strange invader!
Specific nutrients and herbal treatments can be used to reduce the histamine response and calm down over-reactive systems. Vitamin C, Bioflavanoids (especially Quercetin) and Essential Fatty Acids are all key nutrients to be aware of. Like all skin and immune issues, zinc deficiency is also something to be ruled out or addressed. Herbal medicines must be prescribed on an individual basis, but some star players include Baical Skullcap, Albizzia and Echinacea root.
Hives can be insanely itchy; meaning, they make you feel like you’re going mad.
Some tips to help with the itch!
- Baking soda is great in the bath for reducing itch, try a small handful. This is safe for babies and children too.
- Apple Cider Vinegar can be similarly used, or applied neat.
- Fresh Aloe Vera (from the plant) can be incredibly soothing and healing, but if you don’t have any, try strips of cucumber from the fridge!
- Rolled Oats wrapped in a flannel or tea-towel can be used as a body wash. They make a soothing milky wash that can be great for anything itchy. Again this is fine for littlies.
So in summary: Identify, Remove, Rebalance….and in the meantime, calm that itch!