Ah, allergy season: somehow both my longest friend and my mortal enemy simultaneously. I grew up in a rather allergy-heavy household, with my mom, brothers, and I truly delivering an encyclopedia’s worth of allergies around. From food (pineapple, soy, dairy, and avocados) to nature (I have a pollen tracker on my phone), I consider myself to be quite the expert on allergic reactions. The very best thing was there’s no consistency when it came to our allergies. While my “allergy season” peaks from mid-August into early October, my mother has them 365 days a year, and one of my brothers has a spring sneeze.
Hives, itchy bumps caused by certain triggers (or, according to some doctors, caused for no reason whatsoever), were commonplace in my household, and we were always looking for solutions for our allergic ailments. I know this isn’t my own problem, and when the idea came to me, I rushed to ask experts the best way to handle this very common problem. If I wasn’t doing it for me, I’m absolutely doing it for my mom and my brothers. Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic, as well as board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, gave some great tips and tricks for alleviating even the itchiest of hives as soon as possible, so you can keep your suffering to a minimum.
What Are Hives?
Hives, or urticaria, is a skin flare-up caused by certain triggers, such as an allergic reaction to a food or beverage. It manifests as raised, red welts or wheals that can itch. The area will feel swollen, bumpy, and sensitive to the touch. It is a very common condition that can affect all ages. We are not sure what the cause of hives is, other than genetics—they can even be induced by exercise.
Try an Antihistamine
“Because hives are triggered by a release of histamine, oral antihistamines are generally the most effective treatment,” King shares. An antihistamine can help block the signals triggering the flare-up. When we talk about antihistamines, we are generally talking about an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl or Zyrtec, but an H2 antihistamine like oral cimetidine may also be helpful. But tread carefully and make sure you’re doing it with a doctor’s supervision—antihistamines can cause drowsiness and sleepiness, while also being extremely effective.
Use a Humectant
Moisture on wounds has been proven to help them heal much more effectively and rapidly. “We use to think wounds needed to air out and scab, but moisture actually helps,” Engelman explains. “The more pliable and moisturized skin is, the less it will be prone to crack and itch. Think of moisturizers as a shield.” Moisturizers lock in active ingredients and block harmful aggressors out, so look for humectants—ingredients or products that help the skin retain moisture—which will seal in moisture, help to relieve symptoms, and expedite healing. Engelman suggests SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream ($69), which will repair, nourish, and protect the delicate, injured skin and support our body’s natural production of ceramides, which is integral to a strong skin barrier.
Get a Humidifier
“I love humidifiers for those suffering with compromised skin because it is a great tool to support the skin barrier,” says Engelman. We want to limit the loss of moisture to improve the healing of the hives, as well as reduce the risk of dryness, cracking, and flaking that can put the skin at risk of infection. The Canopy humidifier ($150) is not only a favorite of Engelman’s for being clean, chic, and a skin savior—but a Byrdie fave as well.
Avoid Known Triggers
Of course, the easiest way to heal hives quickly is not to be around anything that might spark a trigger for your skin. If you’re unaware of what might be causing the irritation, create a log of everything you put in or on your skin for a few days and see what the common thread may be—it could be an allergic reaction, a change in temperature, sunlight, or even stress. Start eliminating certain things from your day-to-day and take note of what does or does not change—you’ll figure out what’s causing you issues in no time.
Don’t Dry Out the Skin
It’s a no-brainer, but try to avoid taking extra-hot showers. Not only is it bad for the environment and not so great for your skin, but certain soaps can also dry out your skin and irritate your skin further. On that same note, avoid lotions or perfumes that are heavy in alcohols or anything that might make the skin feel even dryer.
Consider a Low-Histamine Diet
When in doubt, change your diet—If you’re really struggling to locate the source causing the hives, it may be in what you’re eating. Follow a low-histamine diet, as in one that doesn’t include foods heavy in histamines, a chemical that regulates how the body responds to foreign substances and injury. If starting a low-histamine diet, avoid the following:
- fermented dairy products, such as cheese (especially aged), yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and kefir
- fermented or pickled vegetables, like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi
- fermented beverages, including kombucha, wine, beer, alcohol, and champagne
- cured or fermented meats, such as sausages, salami, and fermented ham
- fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso, and soy sauce,
- fermented grains, such as sourdough bread
- frozen, salted, or canned fish, such as sardines and tuna
Take an Oatmeal Bath
Put away the Quaker Oats—you’re not bathing in the same oatmeal you used to make cookies. There are specific ingredients that can help to alleviate and relieve itchiness from hives: oatmeal, and more specifically, colloidal oatmeal created for bathing, as well as baking soda are all helpful. Add a cup of oatmeal to a warm (not too hot) bath and soak for at least 15 minutes, being careful not to rub too hard with a towel once finished.
Soothe with Aloe Vera
Yes, aloe vera is known for helping treat sunburns, but the same level of anti-inflammatory treatment can also help with hives. Rub the infected area several times a day with topical aloe vera gel or cream. Just make sure to do a patch test first—you don’t want to cause an allergic reaction trying to treat one.