Hives (Urticaria)

Hives (which have the medical name Urticaria) are a problem that affects many people and there are several strategies that I have seen to consistently help that I share further below.

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Different kinds of Urticaria (Hives)

The table below shows some common triggers for people but to be honest it leaves out as much as it puts in and many of my own patients have had their hives triggered off by some other event or combination of events that is not covered here. The main reason I include it is to show how varied can be the types and hives along with their triggers.



Time of

Duration of




Stroking, scratching,

2-5 minutes
(Occas several hours)

1-5 hours
(Occas up to 48 hours)

Firm stoking of skin

Headache, malaise (tiredness)

Cholinergic Urticaria

Exercise or overheating.
Mental stress.

2-20 minutes

30-60 mins

Cycling, running, sauna

Headache, nausea, wheezing


Cold contact

2-5 minutes

1-2 hours

Ice cube, cold arm bath, cold air

Wheezing, dizziness, fainting


Light of varying wavelengths

2-15 minutes

0.25-3 hours

Phototest (exposure to light)

Wheezing, dizziness, fainting


Pressure against the skin

3-8 minutes

8-24 hours

Locally applied pressure

Flu-like syndrome, joint pain


Contact with heat

2-15 minutes

30-60 mins

Hot arm bath

Gastro upset,
fatigue, loss of breath


Contact with water

2-30 mins

30-60 mins

Bath, compresses

Faintness, headache

Vibratory angioedema


0.5-4 mins

1 hour

Vibrating motor

Faintness, headache

Exercise-induced anaphylaxis

Exercise after a heavy meal

2-5 mins

10-30 mins


Flushing, disorientation collapse

Familial cold Urticaria

Cold wind, change from cold to warm

0.5-3 hours

48 hours

Cold wind followed by rewarming

Tremor, fever
Joint pain, headache.

Treating the Roots of Hives

The first place you need to start with any case of hives that isn't just a once-off reaction is to look at the overall condition of the immune system because an over-active immune response is highly likely to be at least an underlying factor if not the root cause with any kind of chronic hives.

Immune over-activity can be just as harmful and disruptive to our health as immune under-activity. Having an immune system is exactly like having an active army, navy and air-force inside the borders of your own body. You need those forces to repel invaders from the outside such as viruses and likewise to deal with dangerous elements on the inside such as cancer but if they start attacking harmless substances or waging war against your own tissues then there can be hell to pay -- such as happens with hives!

People with hives, similar to those who get a lot of allergies or hay fever, don't tend to get a lot of colds and flus (the immune system being over-active means infections are unlikely to get a foot-hold) but they may still be out of balance and the first place to look in that case are the key factors that provide rhythm and stability in our lives -- our sleep cycles, our diet and our general temperament.


Start your enquiry into how likely your immune system needs attention by looking at this simple check list

~ do I have signs of food intolerance such as a bloated stomach and dark rings under my eyes?
~ do I eat a healthy diet and would score myself at least 7 out of 10 for a good nutrition?
~ am I relatively happy in myself or am I holding on to too much stress and tension?

Food Allergy

Not everyone with hives has food allergies or intolerances but I have seen a link between these two issues enough times to know that it is a real possibility -- especially with chronic hives where there is a history of any eczema or asthma.

What typically happens is that there is a low grade food intolerance (wheat, eggs or dairy products being the most common causes) that put the immune system into a constant state of hyper-vigilance and over-activity. Like I mentioned earlier, the person may feel their immunity is healthy because they get 'sick' less often than others but in fact their immune system is just in a constant state of mild stress and in this scenario it only takes one more trigger to set off the cycle of hives.

Food allergy is a complex subject that needs a thoughtful, scientific and sensitive approach to understand and get on top of -- read here for the tools you need to get started.


Diet & Immunity

I analyse the blood and immune systems of pretty much everyone who comes to see me. I also often ask people to give themselves a score out of 10 for their diet. For many people there is an abundantly clear correlation between how healthy their diet is and how balanced and healthy their immune systems are.

If you know your diet is poor then don't expect a free health pass through life by taking a bit of medicine because hives will just be the beginning of the troubles! A good diet is really important for everyone and the older you get the more it matters. I know there is a lot of conflicting and crazy advice out in the health world but the simple and practical advice I've written up in this page here on excellent nutrition is dependable information and may help to point you in the right direction in this vital matter.


Stress & Immunity

There can be no shadow of a doubt that excess stress and tension can impact adversely on the immune system and many of the people I have met with hives have volunteered their own belief that their problem is stress-related before I even have a chance to ask them!

If you think that this may be the case for you then don't think it is too big a problem to deal with (even if it feels that way!) I have worked successfully with so many people in high levels of stress, tension and anxiety that I know in every case it can get better. This is such a big subject in itself that I will direct you to my article on tension and anxiety here to go further with it.

An equally common cause of disrupted immunity through stress is simply chronic fatigue. There are plenty of cross-overs in this area to excess tension but rather than anxiety there is a deep tiredness that is the dominant disturbance. Again this is far too big a subject to summarise here but it can definitely be helped and the guidelines here will be a good place to start.

Lastly it may be of some help to use some of the relaxation commentaries and music put up here. Even if you have no good cause to think that your own hives have come about through stress the condition itself can be intensely stressful. If this is true for you then I can assure you that practicing relaxation will definitely help you get better.


Treating the Hives

However much you can deal with one or more of the above root-causes to the Hives is as much as you will a) speed your recovery from them and b) prevent them from happening again. That said, if you are being plagued by Hives right now then you will probably still want to use some tried and true methods to help you get better as quickly as possible and, if this is the case, the following includes a practical description of several treatments that I have personally seen to work both quickly and reliably!


I have a huge respect for the ability of Nettles to help with hives and I can pretty much suggest across the board to anyone who has hives, even if they have to deal with other issues to achieve a lasting cure, to start using this herb.

What should be interesting to anyone who has hives is how weird it is that Nettles should help in the first place. The medical name for hives is urticaria, which in turn comes directly from the Latin word for Nettles -- Urtica dioca. Likewise one of the old-fashioned names for hives was 'nettle-rash' because getting stung by the formic acid in the tiny nettle hairs would trigger off a histamine reaction and a rash that looked very like hives. Once the Nettles are dried they lose this ability to sting and gain the ability to settle an over-active immune system.

Large doses of Nettles may be needed for a rapid effect and this is where the tea of Nettles is probably to be preferred. For example we make an allergy tea that centres on nettle leaf (the formula for this is written up below) that will give you an indicator to how much I see being needed to work quickly.

Urtica dioica (Nettles)


Allergy Tea

15gms Nettles                               
15gms Elder flower      
10gms Sage leaf            
10gms Eyebright           
2.5gms Peppermint  

The dose is 3 full teaspoons into one large cup of freshly boiled water. You cover the cup and let it sit for 10 minutes before straining it off (you could use a tea-pot or coffee plunger etc. to do the infusion). It is ok to add honey and you need to sip the tea whilst it is still hot to get all the benefits.

I have a high success rate with both seasonal hay-fever and hives using this formula.. Don’t expect the tea to work immediately like an anti-histamine but most people do start obviously responding to the treatment if they have at least one dose a day for at least three days.


What can you put on your skin?

You've already gathered by now that you have to treat chronic hives from the inside out in order to treat the cause and achieve a cure. That said it is still incredibly important to find a way to relieve the symptoms when the skin is 'up'. There are several methods that may help and, as people vary very much as to what works best, I would encourage anyone with hives to be open-minded to trying several of them before settling on the one that helps the most!

Compress with Thyme or Peppermint

Two herbs that may be particularly easily obtained have rich histories to ease itching or inflamed skin. They are Thyme -- read more about this herb here and Peppermint -- read more about it here

The method of preparation and application is the same for both herbs. Take a good 30 grams (one ounce) of either one of the herbs or a combination of the two and place in a jar (preferably glass). Pour over one litre of freshly boiled water and then make sure to cover the jar straight away because these herbs contains precious volatile oils that will turn into steam and then, so long as the jar is covered, turn back into the liquid where you can get their anti-itching and anti-inflammatory benefits to your skin.

You need to allow the liquid to cool to room temperature so it will need to sit for quite a long time. Strain off the strong infusion into another receptacle and that liquid will be good to use for at least 24 hours.

Method of application

Apply to your skin by dipping a cloth into the infusion and laying if over your skin until the cloth has dried out. If the hives are especially 'hot' then it may be very helpful to place the infusion into a refrigerator so as to make the compress 'cold'. As it both dries and warms out on your skin it will draw out a tremendous amount of the heat of the hives and should provide much relief.

You will need much more of these herbs that you would get from a little box of them at the supermarket but, as they are such commonly used plants around the world, you will hopefully be able to find a bulk-supplier where they will be both cheap and plentiful. If it is helping you then you can safely repeat this treatment as often as you like.

Thymus vulgaris (Thyme)

Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as helping you to treat and prevent hives. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and, to demonstrate how it works in this area it has to be said that the chances of you having a problem with hives are greatly increased if you are one of the hot & dry constitutions, i.e. an Eagle! There is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd