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Ways to Ease Itch of Chronic Hives

1. Itch Relief Made Easier

They’re itchy, red, and raised and often appear at the worst possible times. About 20 percent of the population will get them at least once in their lives, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. They’re hives. And hives that last more than six weeks are considered chronic (persistent or recurring). For some people, these hives are a result of allergies, but for others there’s no discernible cause. Chronic hives with no known cause are called chronic idiopathic urticaria (hives).

The itching associated with these hives, which stems from the release of natural chemicals called histamines by your body’s immune system, can dramatically affect your quality of life. This is among the main findings of a study published in August 2015 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Still, there’s a lot you can do to ease the itch of chronic hives.

2. Avoid Triggers

“Allergy testing is typically the first step when someone develops hives,” says Gary Goldenberg, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Even if your blood work comes back negative, meaning the cause of the hives can’t be found, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any triggers.” Keeping a diary can help you identify your potential triggers. “Pay attention to what precipitates your hives and itching,” Dr. Goldenberg says. “If you go out for Italian food and eat tomato sauce and have a flare, you may want to avoid tomato sauce.”

3. Don’t Scratch

Yes, the itch can drive you crazy, but scratching hives may cause them to spread and become even more inflamed, says Neeta Ogden, MD, an allergist in private practice in Englewood, New Jersey, and a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Cold compresses may help soothe the itch without aggravating the hives,” she says.

4. Take an Antihistamine

Non-drowsy, over-the-counter antihistamines can combat itching and help break the hive cycle by blocking the symptom-producing release of histamine. “The key is to take the antihistamine every day at the exact same time,” Goldenberg says. “Antihistamines don’t treat the hives you have, but they can help prevent new ones from occurring in the next 24 hours.” Antihistamine creams can also stop the itch in its tracks, he says. Ask your doctor about what type of antihistamine is most likely to help relieve your itching.

5. Chill Out

Stress makes everything worse. “Everything is amplified when you’re feeling stressed out,” Goldenberg says. “If you have hives, they can get worse with stress.” The best thing to do is to find ways to de-stress. Meditation, deep breathing, or just taking a walk can help. The key is consistency. “Find something that relaxes you and do it often,” he says.

6. Consider Acupuncture

Acupuncture may play a role in relieving the itch associated with chronic hives, according to a study published in September 2015 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Locate a practitioner near you with the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture’s acupuncturist finder.

7. Take a Cold Shower

Hot showers or baths can make hives worse. “Heat can cause vasodilation, which essentially gives your hives more blood supply and a chance to spread,” Dr. Ogden says. Instead, take a cold shower or a cool bath to calm the itch. Always use soap and other products that are unscented and made for sensitive skin. “Products aren’t causing your hives, but you want whatever you use to be gentle enough not to make them worse,” she says.

8. Moisturize

“Hives aren’t drying like other skin conditions, but if a moisturizer is soothing or cooling, it can be useful,” Ogden says. Some products also have an anti-itch component such as oatmeal that can help relieve the itch and soothe your skin. “But always do a patch test when trying something new,” she says. Wait 48 hours to see if there’s a reaction to the new ingredient. “If oatmeal proves helpful, consider a cool oatmeal bath when the itch of hives flares,” Ogden says.

9. Talk With Your Doctor

“Check with your doctor to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent and stop the itch,” says Goldenberg. If antihistamines aren’t helping, your doctor may prescribe another treatment. These may include corticosteroids, antidepressants, leukotriene modifiers, immunosuppressants, and omalizumab, an asthma drug now approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat chronic hives. Light therapy may also provide some relief, Goldenberg says.