Living with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) — more commonly known as chronic hives — can be difficult, uncomfortable, and even painful.
The condition manifests in raised red bumps on the skin that can last for a few days at a time. When individual hives disappear, they’re often quickly replaced by new ones.
Some people can successfully treat their symptoms with medications such as antihistamines, but other people find these to be ineffective.
If you’re seeking alternative options to make living with CIU easier, here are some hacks to help reduce your itching and discomfort.
Dry skin and itchy skin can go hand in hand, so it’s important to keep your skin hydrated at all times.
For the best results, lather on lotion right after you shower or bathe. Doing this will help your skin retain some of the moisture that would otherwise evaporate.
Skip the hot showers and take a cool oatmeal bath instead. Hot water can dry out your skin and worsen symptoms, but a cool bath can provide soothing hydration to your skin.
Adding ground oatmeal to your bath can help provide your skin’s surface with a protective barrier to help it retain moisture.
Keeping your skin cool can ease itching by reducing inflammation around your hives. Use a cold, damp washcloth and leave it on irritated spots for 15 seconds.
You can also use an ice pack instead of a washcloth, which can add a numbing effect to help dull the itching sensation. But if you do use an ice pack, wrap it in a towel to keep a layer between the ice and your skin.
In a small 2014 study where people with chronic hives were given either a low dose or a high dose of vitamin D, those taking the higher dose showed a decrease in the number of days they had hives. They also experienced better sleep quality.
Talk to your doctor about whether taking vitamin D could be beneficial for your symptoms.
Take a look at your clothing labels and choose outfits that are made of cotton or silk. By choosing these soft, simple fabrics, you’ll give your skin a chance to breathe.
Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, can potentially irritate your skin. Wearing long sleeves and long pants may also help keep your mind off your hives and prevent you from scratching.
Topical anti-itch creams, such as calamine lotion, can help provide some instant relief from itchiness. Ask your doctor about which creams might be right for you. They may recommend specific anti-itch creams that are more effective at treating itchiness that stems from hives.
Even though scratching may offer temporary relief, it can irritate your skin over time. Try to resist the urge to scratch your hives by distracting yourself with hobbies you enjoy. Keep your nails short or wear gloves if you really can’t hold back.
While it can be difficult, distracting yourself can stop you from contributing to the vicious and difficult-to-break cycle of itching and scratching.
Just because you don’t know the underlying cause of your hives doesn’t mean you can’t identify potential triggers that bring on outbreaks.
Pay attention to see if certain situations tend to make your hives worse. Examples include being outside in direct sunlight, spending time around animals, vigorous exercise, or any of these other potential triggers.
Then, see what happens when you avoid them. You may find that you can lessen the number of hives you have — or how long they last — by avoiding specific triggers that set them off.
Researchers are still studying links between CIU and different diets to see how foods can affect hives. While there isn’t much evidence, limited studies show that changing your diet may lessen the severity of your symptoms, at least on an individual level.
Two diets that researchers are studying to examine how they affect CIU symptoms include:
- An antihistamine diet. An antihistamine diet attempts to lower the level of histamines in the blood by avoiding histamine-rich foods. Examples of histamine-rich foods include cheese, yogurt, preserved meats, fermented foods, canned fish, alcoholic beverages, and more.
- A pseudoallergen-elimination diet. Although allergy tests may turn up negative, it’s possible that avoiding pseudoallergens, such as food additives, could lessen CIU symptoms. An elimination diet removes these pseudoallergens completely and then slowly reintroduces them, so that you can examine the effects on your symptoms.
Talk to your doctor about whether starting an antihistamine diet or an elimination diet could make sense for you, and if it does, how you should proceed.
Although you may feel like you’re the only person living with this condition, it’s actually quite common. About 20 percent of people will get urticaria at some point in their lifetime. For
It’s important for you to find support, whether through family and friends, or trusted individuals you’ve met online who share your experiences. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has forums where you can post questions and communicate with others with CIU. When all else fails, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
Life with CIU can be frustrating, especially if your symptoms prevent you from getting enough sleep and completing daily tasks. But there are several ways you can ease the itchiness and discomfort that comes with your condition.
Keep your skin hydrated and cool to reduce inflammation and talk to your doctor about other lifestyle changes — as well as topical creams — that may help.