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Hive Cures

Hive Cures
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You may think hay fever is bad until you join the one in five
Americans who get the skin version of an allergic attack. Doctors
call it urticaria; laypeople call it hives. Sufferers often
don’t say anything at all—they’re too busy trying not to
scratch their itchy, red-spotted skin.

What causes this maddening rash? In most cases, the culprit
is something—last night’s dinner, a dusty room, your
neighbor’s overly friendly dog—that stimulates an allergic
reaction. “Most of the time, you can’t pinpoint the cause,” says Lawrence H. Bernstein, M.D., a former family doctor
who is the medical director at Jewish Geriatric Services in
Longmeadow, Massachusetts. “That’s the maddening thing
about hives. All kinds of things can trigger it.”

Whatever the cause, your immune system senses a hostile
invader and kicks into overdrive. The first line of defense, of
course, is the skin. Tiny blood vessels begin to leak a protein-rich,
itch-causing fluid. It’s the buildup of fluid under the skin
that makes the red dots characteristic of hives. Individual welts rarely last more than a day or two at a time,
although the rash can move around your skin for
weeks. Some people with chronic urticaria even
suffer from skin rashes for months.

Your skin, being the sensitive organ that it is,
sometimes doesn’t need an allergy-causing substance
to bring up a rash. A job interview, a first
date, or an argument with your teenage
daughter—any form of emotional stress—can set
you to itching. A hot summer day, a chilly morning
on the ski slopes, fever, a few cocktails, premenstrual
syndrome, or problems with your thyroid
can make a mild attack of hives seem almost unbearable.

Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch in
searching for a remedy. Our Yankee doctors offer some time-tested solutions.

Treat the Allergy

“The antihistamine Benadryl is our first line of defense,” says
Stephen Blair, M.D., a pediatrician in private practice in
Claremont, New Hampshire. “You can buy it over the
counter in any drugstore. In most cases, it’ll make your hives
go away in two to four days. If you’re still suffering, see your
doctor about a prescription for Atarax, an antianxiety drug
that’s also a powerful antihistamine.”

Stay Cool While You Soak

“Take a cool or lukewarm bath to relieve the itching of
hives,” says Kathryn A. Zug, M.D., a dermatologist at the
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New
Hampshire. “Avoid taking your usual hot shower. The skin
of some people gets itchier from the beating of hot water
against it.”

Or Go for the Big Chill

“Ice massage is a marvelous thing for hives,” says Brewster
Martin, M.D., a retired family doctor in Chelsea, Vermont.
Wrap several ice cubes in a clean cloth and stroke it slowly
and gently against the rash. “The cold will send a mild pain
message to your brain,” Dr.Martin says. “Itching is carried on the same nerves as pain, so the ice
will disrupt the itching message.”

Get a Cold Foot

Here’s a great way to cool down your
itches, according to Dr. Martin: Fill a
clean tube sock with uncooked rice, sew
the sock shut, and put it in the freezer
for two hours. Then hold the cold pack
against your rash. The chilly rice is
reusable, and it won’t melt—making it
less messy than ice.

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