Hives can be extremely uncomfortable and stressful, especially when you're unsure of their origin. While there are various causes for hives, seasonal allergies can be one that many people overlook. In this article, we'll take a look at how seasonal allergies can cause hives, what other symptoms you may experience and what treatments are available.
What Are Allergic Hives (Urticaria)?
Allergy-induced hives, and hives in general, are a breakout characterized by red and itchy welts on the skin. Also known as urticaria, the outbreak is a result of the body's immune system releasing histamines in response to exposure to an allergen such as food or pollen.
These histamines cause the blood vessels in the skin to swell, resulting in red welts. The size and shape of the welts can range, with some appearing as small bumps while others are larger and more defined.
What Allergies Cause Hives?
Hives and other rashes are part of the body's immune response to environmental triggers. Like other allergy symptoms, there are several possible irritants. Whether or not a person develops hives will depend on how their body reacts to perceived threats and how they come into contact with them.
With that being said, there are some common allergies that can easily cause hives as a symptom when triggered. These include:
Pollen is among the most prevalent allergens in the United States, affecting as many as 60 million people annually. A fine, powdery substance, pollen, is produced by plants as part of their fertilization process. Pollen is small and light enough to be airborne, meaning that it’s difficult to completely limit exposure to.
Dogs, cats, and other haired animals produce dander, made up of tiny flakes of skin. It's an allergen much like pollen in that it is also airborne, meaning that even if someone isn't a pet owner, they can still be exposed by visiting another home. The most significant difference between dander and pollen is that the former can stay suspended in the air for much longer.
Mold spores are found all over, even in the cleanest of homes. They often grow in damp and dark places, such as showers and basements. If allergic to mold, when inhaled, mold spores can cause various symptoms, including hives and other skin rashes.
Dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in environments with a lot of dust. They feed on organic matter, such as shed skin cells, and can be found all over the house. When exposed to dust mites, their proteins can trigger an allergic reaction in many people, often resulting in hives or rashes.
Symptoms of Hives from Allergies
Hives are best described as red, raised bumps on the skin. They form in a series of small blotches, which often spread and interconnect. Not all hives look the same - although they look like welts in most cases, hives may also resemble groups of pimples, mosquito bites, or even rashes.
In addition to the visible welts, hives can also cause other symptoms, such as itching and burning sensations on the area of the skin affected. Other allergy symptoms, such as watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose, may also be present.
Hives tend to appear suddenly and can develop practically anywhere on the body. They most commonly develop due to direct contact with an allergen in the exposed area. They can also occur as part of the body's greater immune response when triggered by airborne allergens.
What Is The Difference Between Hives and a Rash?
The terms 'hives' and 'rash' are often used interchangeably. While both refer to outbreaks on the skin, it's worth noting that there are some key differences between the two. A rash is a general term used to describe any skin reaction or symptoms like redness, itching, or hives.
These lesions can present themselves in several different ways but are generally flush and progressive.
Hives, on the other hand, refer specifically to raised welts or bumps on the skin. They are usually red and generally symmetrical, often appearing in large patches or small clusters. Hives can also cause scratching and present themselves as a burning sensation.
While both can be caused by allergens, hives are most commonly associated with allergies or other forms of hypersensitivity. A rash, however, can be caused by various factors, such as an infection or environmental irritant.
What Do Allergy Hives Look Like?
Although broadly described as scattered, swollen, red blotches, not all cases of hives look the same. An individual's outbreak may differ based on the allergen, severity of the reaction, and their immune system. In general, hives present as patches of bumps, welts, or blisters that range in size.
They are slightly raised and red, although they can have a lighter or darker hue depending on the individual.
How someone's hives look can be affected by their response to the outbreak. Those that itch their breakout may see it become more inflamed or spread faster. In some cases, the individual welts that make up hive clusters can become irritated to the point that they turn red and begin to bleed.
Welts from hives can also sometimes change shape, move around, disappear and reappear on the body based on an individual's immune response. Repeated exposure and itching may also create light skin scarring, which can cause someone's hives to look slightly different.
What Else Causes Hives?
Because many triggers cause an immune response producing histamine hives can have many causes. Allergies are one of the most common causes of hives; however, several other factors can trigger this condition. Below is a breakdown of some of the most prevalent.
Viral or bacterial infections can cause infectious hives. They may appear as a symptom of the infection or be triggered by an individual's immune system response. The hives may sometimes be accompanied by other symptoms, such as a fever or sore throat.
Hives can develop after a strenuous exercise session. This condition is known as "exercise-induced hives" and can arise due to an individual's body temperature rising quickly or an increase in their heart rate.
Certain medications can cause an allergic reaction in some people. These reactions may manifest as hives, which are usually accompanied by itching and swelling of the affected area. Patients who experience hives as a result of taking a specific type of medicines should speak to their doctor to determine if they should stop the treatment.
Heat-related hives are caused by a surge in body temperature. Although they're not due to an allergic reaction, heat hives look very similar to those caused by allergens. They're usually red and swollen and may be slightly itchy. Heat hives can mainly be found on the neck, chest, and face.
Stress-induced hives are also common and can be caused by physical and mental stressors. They usually appear as symmetrical blotches on the chest, neck, and back. In some cases, they may also appear on other parts of the body.
Hormones are a well-known trigger for hives. This type of reaction is often seen in pregnant women and those taking hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills. Although they can appear anywhere on the body, hives caused by hormones usually happen around the neck and chest area.
Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause hives. This type of reaction is usually seen as an isolated incident rather than a long-term problem. Hives caused by autoimmune diseases are generally itchy and may come along with other symptoms, such as swollen joints.
How to Get Rid of Hives
Getting rid of hives isn't a one-solution problem. Depending on the reasons for and severity of your outbreak, some treatment options may be more effective than others. To give you a general overview, we've compiled a list of some of the most popular at-home and over-the-counter (OTC) solutions used for hives.
Home remedies are both inexpensive and often a great starting point for treating hives. Some of the most commonly used home remedies for hives include:
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy for hives and several other rashes and lesions. To use it:
- Mix one cup of warm water with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Apply the solution to a piece of gauze or strips of clean cotton fabric, then apply this to the affected area.
- After covering it with a piece of dry, clean cotton fabric, leave it on for three hours or overnight.
Oatmeal baths are a soothing and effective treatment for hives. To make an oatmeal bath, add two cups of ground colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath and stir until the water is milky. Soak in the tub for 15-20 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.
Cold compresses are a great way to reduce the itching and swelling associated with hives. To make your own, simply soak a clean washcloth in cold water and place it over the affected area for 10 - 15 minutes. This can be done several times a day, as needed.
Baking Soda Baths/Scrubs
Baking soda is a natural anti-inflammatory and can be used to relieve the discomfort of hives. The best way to use it is in a bath soak by mixing one to two cups of baking soda with a tub of lukewarm water. Wash the affected areas with this solution and then rinse off with cold water.
You can also apply baking soda topically with a paste mixture of one tablespoon of baking soda and two tablespoons of water.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation and hives. Taking a 500mg vitamin C supplement can help reduce the severity and duration of hives symptoms.
When home remedies aren't enough, there are a few OTC options that can be effective in temporarily curbing symptoms or making them more bearable. These include:
Antihistamines are the most commonly used medications for hives. They work by blocking histamine. OTC antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Claritin, can help to reduce itching, swelling, and other symptoms associated with hives.
Corticosteroids are a type of steroid used to reduce inflammation. When taken orally, they can help to reduce hives and other skin reactions caused by allergies. Topical corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone cream, can be applied directly to the skin to reduce itching and swelling.
When to See a Doctor
If home remedies and OTC medications are not relieving your symptoms, it's time to see a doctor. Your doctor will be able to determine the cause of your hives and give you a prescription for a stronger medicine, if necessary. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend allergy testing to determine the exact cause of your hives.
It's important to seek professional help if your hives are accompanied by breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or rashes on other parts of the body, or if they last longer than a few days. These could be signs of a more serious allergic reaction and require medical attention.
How to Diagnose Allergies
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, it is important to get tested and diagnosed by a professional. Knowing what your triggers are will help you find more effective treatment plans and long-term relief from your symptoms. There are two primary methods of allergy testing available.
Skin Prick Test
Skin prick testing is conducted in a doctor's office and is the most common way to test for allergies. During the test, a small amount of an allergen is pricked into your skin to observe and track any allergic reaction. If you are allergic to any tested substances, you will likely develop bumps or hives at the injection site.
At-Home Allergy Test
If you're looking for a less painful, more convenient alternative to prick testing, an at-home kit may be your best option. Here's how it works:
- Get Wyndly’s at-home allergy test. We ship our CLIA-certified test straight to your door.
- Take the allergy test and send it back to us. Just do a quick finger prick test to provide us with a blood sample and mail it back when you’re done.
- Receive your personal allergy profile. Our doctor will interpret your results, create an allergy profile, and walk you through a treatment plan.
The best part about Wyndly's at-home testing is that it can offer insight into the full breadth of your allergies. Results will detail exactly what substances you're reactive to and the steps you can take to mitigate the symptoms.
How to Treat Seasonal Allergies
If you find yourself struggling with allergies and the symptoms that come along with them, there are a few things you can do to get some relief.
Limiting exposure to your allergy triggers is one of the most effective ways to prevent allergy symptoms. While some allergens are difficult to completely avoid, there are ways to reduce your exposure.
- Check pollen counts: Pollen is the most common allergy trigger. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid it completely. However, you can keep an eye on pollen levels in your area and try to limit your time outdoors on high-pollen days.
- Watch your outdoor hours: Pollen levels fluctuate throughout the day and are often highest in the early morning and afternoon. If you're planning on going outside during the day, doing so during the evening is safest.
- Keep windows closed: Pollen is airborne and can easily enter your home through an open window. Be sure to keep your windows shut and opt for A/C, especially during high-pollen count days.
- Take shoes off: When you come in from outside, take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking pollen and other allergens inside.
- Wipe-off pets: If you have pets that spend time outdoors, wipe them down with a damp cloth when they come inside to remove any pollen they may be carrying.
- Clean your home: Pollen can also come into your home on clothing, hair, and skin, so it's important to keep any surfaces you touch or interact with clean. Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth.
- Do laundry more often: Wash bedding, towels, and clothing frequently to remove any pollen that may have accumulated.
If limiting your exposure to allergens isn't enough, there are a variety of OTC medications that can help with short-term symptom relief.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines work by temporarily blocking histamine, a chemical that your body releases in response to an allergic trigger. This relieves symptoms like itchiness, sneezing, and a runny nose.
- Eye drops: If you tend to experience red, watery, or itchy eyes with allergies, then eye drops can provide you with short-term relief from these symptoms.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays clear pollen and other allergens from your nasal passages and reduce inflammation. This relieves symptoms like congestion.
Sublingual immunotherapy is an allergy treatment that gradually exposes your body to your allergy triggers. Over time, sublingual immunotherapy allows your immune system to become desensitized to the allergen, which reduces your symptoms.
Sublingual immunotherapy is administered in the form of allergy drops or tablets that are placed under the tongue. These can be self-administered in the comfort of your home, making them a convenient and effective option for treating your allergies.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
To learn whether you may have allergies that are triggering your urticaria, look no further than Wyndly! Wyndly’s allergy doctors will work with you to identify what’s triggering your allergy symptoms and help you find long-term relief.
Take our easy online assessment now to get started on your journey toward lifelong relief.