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The First Signs of Urticaria or Hives

Updated on November 28, 2016
PegCole17 profile image

Peg served as caregiver and patient advocate for family members over the past dozen years.

This is what I saw in the mirror.
This is what I saw in the mirror.

What Causes Hives?

It's often impossible to find out the exact cause as to why hives have formed. They can be a reaction to medication, insect stings, certain food, allergic reactions, sunlight, stress and numerous other factors. There are several different types of hives from acute, or lasting less than six weeks, to chronic, meaning they last indefinitely or pay a return visit.

That day, the situation was reversed.
That day, the situation was reversed.

One sweltering Texas afternoon, I stepped out on the back porch for a moment closing the door behind me. My dogs stayed inside, while I shook out a rug and turned to come back inside. One of them jumped up to see me at the window and when he got down, his paw hit the deadbolt. The lever turned and locked me out.

Through the window, I saw both dogs waiting by the door eager for my return. After a few minutes, they began to whine hoping I'd let them out with me. They didn't understand that I wanted inside as much as they wanted out.

Hey! We want out.
Hey! We want out.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of fingernails scratching across skin. To my great distress it was me doing the scratching. I jumped up, ran to a mirror and saw a bumpy, red rash had formed across my upper torso. Worse, was the insatiable, mind-numbing itch that came along with it.

By noon, the rash covered my abdomen and was creeping up the back of my scalp. The itching was so intense I couldn't stop scratching, although it wasn't helping at all, just making matters worse. Red welts had started to appear everywhere.

I called my doctor as soon as their office opened, but was out of luck. He was out of the office until Monday. Next, I searched search on line for pictures that matched my symptoms. Several articles later, I still had no answers so I headed to the drug store. The pharmacist kindly steered me away from one lotion and recommended an over-the-counter itch stopping cream.

By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFD
By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFD

By the next morning, with the tube of Benadryl nearly gone, I was rapidly becoming a basket case from the constant itching, scratching, and lack of sleep. I worried whether I had measles, bed bugs or something possibly worse. I tried to imagine what had caused this. Perhaps I'd walked through a field of poison ivy or fallen into a vat of itching powder. I had done neither.

Around noon, I was beyond the limits of my endurance so I headed into town scratching my way across the miles. When I reached the local pharmacy I stopped to take my blood pressure at the free machine near the Minute Clinic.


Going to the Clinic

I filled out the paperwork and waited for my turn at the clinic, trying not to embarrass myself by scratching like a dog with ten thousand fleas. Soon enough, the mysterious door opened and I was ushered into a small room. There, a Nurse took my blood pressure, which was elevated. and my temperature which was slightly above normal.

I explained my symptoms and watched for her reaction when I revealed a patchwork of red itchy bumps now enhanced by my long and dutiful fingernails. True to her call to professionalism, she didn't flinch. She immediately referred me to the care facility across the street explaining that I needed a cortisone shot which she could not administer. She didn't charge me for the visit which took about two minutes.

Annular urticaria in a 60 year old man, trigger unknown.
Annular urticaria in a 60 year old man, trigger unknown. | Source

Not You Again

At the clinic across the highway there was more paperwork to fill out. While detailing my medical history, a child emerged from behind the closed door. His wailing and tears told a sordid story. The doctor, who abruptly spat out information to the child's mother, was the same guy who'd given me a flu shot a year earlier. After his rough ten-second injection that left a huge welt on my arm for two weeks, I promised myself never to go back there. The name on the building was different, but the same people were clearly still there. I asked for my forms back, ripped them to shreds, got my ID cards back and left.

I walked back across the highway to CVS, where my ride waited outside the closed door of the Minute Clinic. We returned home no closer to a solution, while I scratched madly on more body parts.

I like scratching, too!
I like scratching, too!

Care Now Facility

Fast forward to Sunday morning after another sleepless night, by which time I was at the point of hysteria, unable to eat or sleep for two days. The itching had intensified to the point where I felt like screaming. I had hoped to hold out and wait for my family physician to return on Monday, but there was absolutely no way I could wait another twenty-four hours.

After more web searching, I found a Care Now Facility a mere sixteen miles away and off we went. I was pleased that the clinic looked clean and was equipped with computers. It even had a movie playing on a big screen TV starring The Rock (Yum, eye candy, scratch, scratch, itch, itch). I refrained myself the best I could to prevent further damage to the welts which had now taken over my arms, legs, ears and neck.

It Has a Good Beat and You Can Scratch to It.

After waiting long enough to see a happy ending to the movie, my name was called and I was escorted back where another nurse repeated the same familiar questions. I scratched out my answers and within moments, I was diagnosed with Hives, also called Urticaria. These are red bumps on the skin that usually itch. No joke. After a Decadron 8 MG injection, they gave me a patient instruction sheet explaining my condition.

What Causes Hives? "The hives of short duration are sometimes caused by foods, insect bites, medicines or some other substances." Really? That doesn't narrow it down much.

"Drugs and infections are common causes in children. In chronic urticaria, we are unable to find the cause in most cases. Stress and anxiety or other emotional factors are felt to play a major role in some chronic types. Pollen that is inhaled and parasites or some other infestation may be involved. There is also a type of hives which is known to be triggered by heat, emotions, exercise or cold."

The itching continued on day five, although the spread of the welts slowed down. The clinic said the hives would eventually disappear on their own and that skin testing is rarely helpful. They told me to avoid scratching as this will make the itch start to feel worse. Really, thanks.

After an assault of intense itching followed along with an assault of scratching, I headed for the bottle of anti-itch pills on day six, I was somewhat better, although the spots were not completely gone. Towards the time when another pill came due, the itching increased and scratching became automatic and rampant. I hadn't found what might be triggering the rash, although I'd eliminated everything I could think of that could have caused the outbreak.

We want to go outside and play.
We want to go outside and play.

Hives Poll

Have you ever had hives?

See results

After a full week of itching, I finally gave in and went to my primary care physician who knew immediately what to do. Five minutes later I had a prescription for a steroid which I filled at the original pharmacy where I started off. Minutes after taking the tablet the itching stopped and I felt like a kid again. Okay, maybe I felt more like a middle-aged person. Either way, it was blessed relief.

Notes and References

  1. WebMD, Hives Causes
  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Hives
  3. Mayo Clinic, Chronic Hives

© 2010 Peg Cole


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    • profile image

      Sacha J Mike 

      20 months ago

      I feel for you. I'm glad you were able to resolve your hives quickly!

      Life with CIU (my diagnosis) is no fun. I can manifest hives if my hair touches my skin, or I take a shower at night. The mystery is why the hives happen. In my case, they believe it may be because of a previous bout of h.pylorii which caused me to build antibodies to my own cells. Whether they are short-term or long-term, hives are a truly pain. I have found that in my own case, treating the itch is like playing Russian Roulette - lots of great ideas, lots of misses. I hope you haven't had further bouts of this magnitude, and that your readers stay hive free!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      4 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Au fait, I'll imagine you were beautiful as a blond. What a lot of work it is to maintain and the chemicals that have to be used are quite strong. I remember Corn Husker's lotion, although, I haven't seen it for a while.

      Yep, those pesky hives are not particular as to where they appear. It can be quite embarrassing when scratching is required.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      4 years ago from North Texas

      Sounds horrible! I used to get hives as a baby/toddler. My mother said it was from the heat. I forgot what she used on them, but I think it was some kind of baking soda solution. Once it cooled off my hives usually went away.

      As an adult I sometimes got them from hair products. I was a blonde for a while in my late teens early 20s, but eventually developed an allergy to the bleach products. I used to sit in a lukewarm tub of water and then rub Corn Huskers lotion all over where the hives where.

      Eventually the hives got so bad I just had to quit bleaching my hair. They were in my nose, throat, eyes, and other places I won't mention. Every time a person is exposed to an allergen the consequences get worse, so it was asking for major trouble if I didn't quit with the hair bleaching.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      4 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Oh my, HollieT. It only took a few days for mine to fade and get better although I did get an injection of cortisone. The antihistamine pills didn't seem to have any effect for me. It is a horrible, mind bending sort of itch that will not let you concentrate elsewhere. I'm glad you're better. Thanks for taking time to drop in and comment.

    • HollieT profile image


      4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

      The same thing happened to me about ten years ago. For no apparent reason I began itching like a maniac and was covered in a horrible red rash. My GP suggested it was hives and, like you, I was told that there are multiple triggers including stress. However, he also suggested that sometimes are central nervous system goes up the wall and we can suddenly have a reaction to things which previously haven't affected us. I was prescribed with antihistamines; Zirtec one to be taken every 24 hours. They did the trick and I stopped itching. The bad news is that I had to take them for 12 months before the hives just disappeared on their own.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Hello Mandeeadair,

      Oh I'm so sorry that your daughter is suffering from this. I was so taken aback that they do not know the cause in most cases! To combat any outbreaks I've started restricting my time outdoors when things are blooming and don't allow myself to get overheated etc. I'm sure you have some remedies that have helped you get through this with your poor child. I do hope you'll share those if you can. Sending hope for some much needed relief in your direction and thanks for stopping in to read this.



    • Mandeeadair profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Wow, that sounds like it was miserable. My daughter has been suffering for chronic urticaria for over 9 months. We are still trying to find the cause. It has been exhausting for both of us. :(

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      That isn't good news Lyn. High stress and overheating? Oh no.

    • Lyn.Stewart profile image


      6 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

      Don't I wish lol ... The sad thing is that my skin specialist told me that once you have had hives you are stuck with them. He said in times of high stress or overheating the chances of having an outbreak rise dramatically.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Oh Lyn.Stewart, This is such an uncomfortable condition and I do empathise with your discomfort. Thank goodness you've found some relief with the cold flannels. Glad to see you here today and may all your days be free of hives. Peg

    • Lyn.Stewart profile image


      6 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

      My hives occur from becoming overheated. I use the same pills that are used for hayfever and this stops the itching and the hives go away usually within the week.

      I also put a fan on me and use cold flannels (which I have to refresh many times due to them overheating) but it helps to bring down the swelling and lessen the itchyness. The pills take 12 hours to do any good so this is a godsend.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      bayoulady - I bet in your area the humidity is sweltering. We've finally had some rain here in TX, of course, with the temp soaring back into the 90s we're in a soup bath.

      You're sweet to understand the torment of this rash. Wow, I had no idea until this happened. Last night I was going into hysterics - a real crying jag - (what a baby I am). Went to my MD (Day 7) who gave me an Rx for steroids. I was just reading the side effects for the drug which include itching and possible rash. OH Brother.

      Anyhow, thanks for dropping by to read and comment. I do enjoy reading your work.

    • bayoulady profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      oatmeal baths are soothing,too. Hope you are feeling better. We have ahd a very hot humid summer, and I have been dealing with almost constant heat rashes. I certainly sympathize with this tormenting itching you are dealing with.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Cygnet, How right you are that medicine has little to offer at times. Yes, mind and body - it's no surprise to me really - I've been bottling up so many emotions and stuffing them down inside that they're finally escaping in any way they can. The symptoms are just expressions of the inner struggle, I guess.

      Fasting is something I can certainly do - I'm nearly there now with the medicine causing a total lack of appetite. And you're right about the yoga - I need to get a grip on my mental processes. Oooooooommmmmmmmm. Omnipadra-onizimioooom. Thanks for your insight and for reading this saga.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      8 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      I'm discovering more and more that modern medicine has little to offer me in the way of health and well being. I've been discovering that the way to keeping my health and my sanity is by understanding how my own body works and using what used to be called common sense. (Which isn't so common any more) We get hives because there is a chemical imbalance in our body and the irritation is cause by our body trying to rid ourselves of toxins. If we learn to deal with the cause (toxins) rather than the symptoms (itching) the problem will go away and stay away. Two things that I found that are really helpful toward ridding yourself of those toxins. One--yoga (deals with toxins caused by stress) and two--fasting (deals with toxins caused by ingested substances). Neither of these are a quick fix but they do address the cause rather than just the symptom. (I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one, I'm just telling you what works for me) I hope this helps.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Thanks so much Lynda. I'll give the baking soda thing a try. I'd love to try a nice soothing bath in the ocean. Perhaps salt water would calm down the itching. Or singe it off. Who cares at this point? And your good wishes are much appreciated.(scratch, scratch)

    • lmmartin profile image


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Oh, poor you. In answer to the title -- I would have gone to one of the many walk in clinics in my area (not having a primary care physician in the first place.) A baking soda bath is supposed to be soothing ...Other than that, no other hints for you. Hope you get better, fast. Lynda


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