I have hives. They're making me crazy.
May 8, 2007 10:36 AM   Subscribe

I have really bad hives. I've been to the doc, and I have a follow up with her next week. I'm on meds. But the hives are still here and they're making me miserable. Is there something I'm missing or something I should ask the doc about?

In mid-April I broke out in body-wide hives. After we stopped freaking out that we had bed bugs (thanks AskMe!), we realized they were hives. I took a double dose of Clarinex and they mostly cleared up. We figured they were stress hives because there was nothing environmental that we could think of that would have caused them (new soap, detergent, different food, etc.).

A couple weeks later while on a work trip, I broke out again. But this time, in addition to the body wide hives (including hands and face and scalp) my left eye orbit swelled up and my lips were very swollen--to the point that I couldn't close my mouth. It was really scary and horrible, but I wasn't having problems breathing, so I didn't make a trip to the hospital.

I got home the next day (a Sunday) and the day after that made an appointment with my doctor for two days later (the earliest they could get me in).

My left eye was still almost swollen shut, my lips were still painfully swollen, and my hands were so swollen and painful it hurt to touch anything. And I still had MASSIVE hives all over my body.

I go to the doc (last Wednesday) and she gives me a cursory look over (normally she's very good, but this time, not so much) and gives me a script for a Medrol pack and some hardcore script strength Benadryl. So, since then I've been taking a Clarinex in the AM, the Medrol as the pack directs, and two of the hardcore Benadryl (100mg total) at night. I've also been using store brand cortisone cream as needed (useless).

The hives mostly cleared up, but I had a mini breakout on Friday and I'm having a mini breakout right now. It's freaking me out. The whole hives experience is freaking me out. I've never had them before and it just plain sucks. I have anxiety issues anyway, and these just add to them (because that's the kind of person I am).

I have a follow up appointment next Wednesday (over a week away) and I have no reason to suspect the hives will be gone by then. What should I ask my doctor about? Are there tests I should ask for? Anything specific I should tell her that I haven't (I told her the history that I told you above, although in more detail)? Anything I should be doing to mitigate these hives and their effect on my mental health?

I appreciate any advice.
posted by misanthropicsarah to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I had cholinergic urticaria (small, painful hives) for a few weeks a couple of years ago, nothing worked. Finally, my doctor decided to go with the H-Bomb strategy and prescribed a two-week course of Prednisone - that really knocked it out. From what I understand, it is really difficult to find the "reason" for your hives, let alone a prescription to "cure" them. Prednisone kicks your immune system up a notch and can, in some cases, knock out whatever it is that is bothering you.
posted by billysumday at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: My boyfriend experienced something similar a little over a year ago. He only had a few hives, but areas of his face began swelling to gross proportions. The first time his bottom lip grew so much it looked like it would pop. Another time it was one entire side of his face and the last one involved his tongue. That was scary. The doctors (there were many) gave no real reason why it was happening beyond diagnosing it as angioedema
which can be caused by any number of factors. Each time it happened he was given Prednisone and large amounts of Benadryl. Sometimes it would take hours for the swelling to go down. He now has a prescription for Prednisone, and his own EpiPen. We're still no closer to understanding why it happened, but believe anxiety and stress played a major part.
posted by Constant Reader at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2007

With your symptoms you should be going to the emergency room. They may decide to give you an injection of cortisone. (That's what it took to deal with a case of hives I got after an allergic reaction to a prescription drug. Cortisone is an immune suppressant.)

Hives can be caused by a food allergy. Think carefully about what unusual food you may have eaten shortly before the attacks broke out. Or it could be a reaction to a drug you took.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:56 AM on May 8, 2007

I think you're being too nice about bearing the discomfort -- most people would've been in the ER if they had what you describe on your work trip and after. "Most people" would be right in this case.
posted by desuetude at 11:06 AM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: When I had a bout with hives several years ago (turned out they were caused by heat), I found that the over-the-counter Benadryl gel worked really well to control them right on the spot. You just apply it directly to the hives. It'll still make you slightly drowsy if you apply it to a large part of your body & it gets into your bloodstream, but for smaller breakouts during the day it really helps.

When I had my first breakout, I went to the ER. They gave me IV Benadryl and a scrip for predisone. I had them pretty regularly for like a year, and then they just went away.
posted by statolith at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2007

Prednisone kicks your immune system up a notch and can, in some cases, knock out whatever it is that is bothering you.
Actually, it does the opposite: it takes your immune system down a notch, which clears up your hives, since hives are caused by your immune system. Prednisone is used in cases in which your immune system is attacking things it shouldn't be attacking.

Sometimes you can get a quicker appointment with your doctor if you call and utter the magic word "emergency." I would call and say that you have hives again and can you get an emergency appointment today or tomorrow. If you can't get in right away, ask for specific instructions about when you should go to the emergency room. And then ask your doctor if it makes sense to get an appointment with an allergist.
posted by craichead at 11:12 AM on May 8, 2007

One thing no one's mentioned yet is heat. I had a full-body attack of the hives that I thought was chicken pox at first, and it took weeks to go away. Even after they'd faded from plain sight, the hives would pop back up if I took a warm bath or shower, so I had to go lukewarm for about a mnth before they were gone completely.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:12 AM on May 8, 2007

Actually, it does the opposite: it takes your immune system down a notch, which clears up your hives, since hives are caused by your immune system. Prednisone is used in cases in which your immune system is attacking things it shouldn't be attacking.

Ah, right. Thanks for clearing me up, there.
posted by billysumday at 11:26 AM on May 8, 2007

I have had a full body hive break out once and have regular (almost chronic) hives on my back. The usual OTC meds help (usually generic claritin for me). Creams containing "Pramoxine " are a huge help to cut the itching for me. There are two I Know of: "Amlactin AP," which is a pretty gentle formula and an "Aveeno" cream that I can't find links to. Ask at the counter if you don't see them since they are sometimes behind the counter.

For me, it turns out I have dermatographism (I'm allergic to being scratched) but that doesn't matter to you. If you are unhappy with the doctor's suggestions, get a second opinion. Try an immunologist or a dermatologist as they might have different perspectives or therapies.

While you can certainly get treatment, you may never know the cause. I still don't know what caused my massive break out.
posted by chairface at 11:40 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding the food allergies. If I accidentally consume a peanut product, my lips where it touched will swell up something awful, and it feels like my throat does too. Keep a food diary for a while, maybe you'll figure something out.
posted by stevis23 at 11:44 AM on May 8, 2007

Best answer: When I went to the ER with unexplained hives, the docs told me that unless there was something obviously new in my environment (foods, detergents, etc. that you seem to have considered already), it wasn't really worth it to try to track down the source of the allergy. One cool thing they did was give me Zantac (yes, the stomach acid pill) in addition to benadryl. Apparently it's another type of antihistamine (easily googleable, last time I checked). I'm no doctor, and i'm not prescribing anything, but if it doesn't interact with anything else you're taking it might be worth a shot to help calm the hives until you get in to see the doctor again.

Also, I have a friend who gets hives when she exercises. The doctor has diagnosed her as having an exertion-related allergy (I forget what the official name is). While you've ruled out the obvious environmental allergens, maybe you could consider what actions you've been engaged in when the hives have appeared.
posted by vytae at 11:52 AM on May 8, 2007

What kind of doctor are you seeing? I had the same thing happen to me (never found out the cause) and my regular doc was useless - sent me to two other docs who hemmed and hawed and didn't help until I saw a dermatologist, who diagnosed me with sudden eczema and finally got me on meds that helped. Nothing else to add...
posted by agregoli at 12:59 PM on May 8, 2007

Just a personal anecdote that probably isn't applicable, but I feel I should mention just in case...

A few years ago I had hives for a week or so. They were very classic-looking hives on my torso, and I assumed I'd developed some sort of food allergy. Within several weeks, I learned that I had Lyme disease. The one time I'd been in a likely exposure situation had been the day before the hives appeared, and I never did get a bullseye rash.

Long story short -- if your doctors are mystified AND you start exhibiting other Lyme symptoms (e.g., tiredness, stiff joints, headaches), it may be worth investigating.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:14 PM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you may as well keep a food diary (and reconstruct as much as possible from the past) for awhlle. You know that this is going to be the first question that any doctor asks, and you may as well come to the table prepared.
posted by desuetude at 1:35 PM on May 8, 2007

I can't take prescriptions for many things and the only thing that cleared my hives is salt water either iodized salt mixed with water, ocean water, or even a bath in Epson salt.
Maybe it would help in conjunction with your current medication?
posted by czechmate at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2007

Please see here. If your case is serious, you need a referral to a specialist, ASAP. Email's in profile if you need to talk.
posted by ersatzkat at 2:15 PM on May 8, 2007

I had my first and only severe hive breakout a few years ago while simeltaneously suffering from allergies and bronchitis and my symptoms were very similar to yours. My doctor also was mystified because I hadn't been under any stress or changed my diet, detergent, etc. She prescribed OTC Benadryl which worked for a few hours, but then the hives would flare up even worse than before after the medication wore off. I was over-doing the Benadryl to keep the hives under control because nothing else was working.

In desperation, I fasted with fresh fruit juice and Quercetin supplements for a couple of days until my symptoms disappeared. All was well until about a month later when I had a particularly bad case of bronchitis (the area I live in had been experiencing extremely smoggy days), so I used the inhaler my doc had prescribed for me the previous month... BINGO! Within an hour, the hives returned with a vengeance. In little tiny letters on the contraindications part of the box were the words, "...may cause itching..."

GAH! Thanks a lot, doc!

I never use an inhaler anymore and haven't had hives since. Take note of everything you're putting in your body -- not just the food -- and see if you can find a link. I really feel for you; get well soon.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 3:18 PM on May 8, 2007

My doctor gave me samples of something called atarax and ended my ordeal with hives.
posted by hortense at 7:55 PM on May 8, 2007

One thing: you definitely can develop an allergy to something you've been using for years. Not only do companies change the formulation of products without informing consumers, but your immune system can suddenly decide for reasons of its own that something you weren't allergic to on Monday is a serious allergen on Tuesday. (It's a myth that allergies all start in childhood or are always to new things.)
posted by watsondog at 8:15 PM on May 8, 2007

Go see a homeopathic doctor. They aren't just for hippies. I had hives for a few months two years ago, and I called my uncle who is a dermatologist. He said to take benedryl and zyrtec, which totally did nothing. Because I was allergic to dairy products and eggs, which I had been eating like it was my job for my whole life. If I were you, I'd go to the emergency room to relieve yourself and then get thee to a homeopathee. But conventional doctors, in my experience with mysterious and persistent hives will just be all, "I don't know. Take this."

I second the call for ocean water or bath salt. It was the only relief I could get for a while.
posted by bash at 9:01 PM on May 8, 2007

I developed a really bad case of hives after taking prescription sulfa drugs (anti-biotics). This happened to me a couple of times before my doctor figured it out.
posted by gt2 at 10:40 PM on May 8, 2007

My daughter-in-law had the same symptoms. It turned out to be something called vascular uticaria (I think). It took a long time and a lot of treatment before it went away. I believe prednisone was involved too.

By the way, my daughter is allergic to cold. She gets hives anyplace on her body that is exposed to cold air for more than a few minutes...just the exposed places though, not all over her body.
posted by rcavett at 8:01 PM on May 9, 2007

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