Have you or a family member come out with an incredibly itchy, raised red rash after eating? If so, it is quite possible you are suffering from an allergic reaction known as urticaria or hives.
Unfamiliar with this itchy skin condition? Here’s what you need to know right now.
What are hives?
Urticaria (or hives) is the name given to an itchy red rash caused by an allergy. You may also have heard of the bumpy red rashes referred to as wheals or welts.
It may be quite localized in one place, or it may spread across large parts of the body. It is almost always very itchy and slightly raised.
However, most cases of urticaria clear within a couple of days.
What can cause hives?
Hives are an allergic reaction and are caused when the body produces high levels of histamine. They are one of the most common ways an allergy can show itself. Other types of allergic reactions include sneezing, coughing, and sore eyes.
Hives may appear when a person is exposed to a certain substance (allergen) or stimuli. These include:
- Changes in physical stimuli, i.e. a person becoming very cold or too hot
- Certain foods
- Skin contact with certain plants
- Insect bites
- Pet dander
- Bacterial infections
- Blood transfusions
However, there are hundreds of potential causes of hives.
Many people may never get hives, whereas some people are allergic to a variety of stimuli and may frequently suffer from it. Some people may develop an allergy in adulthood, and some people may grow out of an allergy that once affected them in childhood.
What are the most common foods known to cause hives?
Foods are amongst the most common triggers of hives. According to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), there are more than 170 known causes of food allergies from which “According to the latest statistics, 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies.”
However, most allergic reactions are caused by the following foods. The more common culprits are:
- Milk and other dairy products
- Nuts (particularly peanuts)
Many people will only react if they actually eat the food they are allergic to. However, just a trace amount of the trigger food is enough to cause a problem for some people.
People with more serious allergies need to avoid skin contact (i.e. touching the food or even kissing somebody who has eaten it). In some cases, people have even reacted to the steam from cooking their trigger food.
Most people will experience an allergic reaction within a few minutes of eating food they are allergic to, almost certainly within a couple of hours.
Food allergies shouldn’t be confused with food intolerances. Food intolerances are when your body struggles to digest certain foods. You may experience an upset stomach with food intolerances, but not the symptoms of allergic reactions, including hives.
What’s happening to the body during a hive breakout?
When a reaction is triggered, high levels of histamine are released under the skin. This causes blood vessels in the area to open up and become leaky. This is what causes the itchiness, swelling, and redness.
Why does it happen?
The release of histamine is a response of the immune system to certain substances. These substances are otherwise harmless, and most people won’t react to them at all.
An allergy is, therefore, a disorder of the immune system, which produces an inappropriate response to an otherwise harmless substance.
Most allergic reactions are mild, whereas others can be very dangerous. Most cases of hives are considered to be a mild reaction, but anyone suffering from them should be watched for signs of a more serious reaction (see below).
Are hives a sign of serious illness?
Hives and any other mild allergic reaction should always be taken seriously. A person can have a very mild reaction to a trigger at first but have a more serious reaction to it at a later date. More serious reactions include severe breathlessness and anaphylactic shock, which is a life-threatening situation. Urgent medical help must be sought.
With this in mind, it’s really important to seek professional medical advice to determine the cause of the allergic reaction and to get advice about what to do if a further reaction occurs. It is likely you’ll be referred to an allergy clinic for tests.
That said, hives are not usually the sign of a serious illness. In most cases, your doctor will diagnose acute urticaria, which means the hives will clear themselves quickly. What you can do is try to prevent further episodes by avoiding the substance you are allergic to.
In fewer cases, a doctor may determine that the hives are chronic urticaria. Chronic urticaria may be diagnosed if symptoms have persisted for more than six weeks.
It may be difficult to determine the cause of chronic hives. However, it is more likely to be a virus or malfunction of the immune system than an allergy. You’ll probably be asked for blood samples so your physician can understand more about your overall health and the cause of your hives.
How can hives be treated?
As mentioned earlier, hives usually clear themselves within a few days. Only severe cases need treatment with corticosteroid medication or an immune modulator.
However, because hives are so itchy, it would be a good idea to take medication to relieve the symptoms.
Taking antihistamine allergy relief medication is a popular and effective way of relieving mild allergy symptoms. They block the effect of histamine, the chemical in the skin that causes the itchiness.
Cold compresses and anti-itch salves can also bring some relief. You can also try cool showers or oatmeal baths.
What should you do if you suspect you have hives caused by a food allergy?
While you can still remember, write down when the hives first appeared and what you had eaten previous to this. It may also be helpful to note down where you were and what you had been doing so that causes other than food can be ruled out by your doctor.
Visit a doctor as soon as you can. They may refer you to an allergy clinic or for other tests.
To safeguard your health, it is important that you follow your doctor’s advice, and attend any appointments they arrange on your behalf.
If you or your doctor can identify possible triggers of your allergy, it is best to avoid all of them until the results of your allergy tests come through. This is the only way of knowing for sure whether something is likely to cause an allergic reaction.
While you wait to hear the results of tests, it’s important to relieve the symptoms of hives so that you can enjoy day-to-day life without the misery of intense itchiness.