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What causes hives? The short answer is anything and the other answer is nobody knows. Yet 20% of Americans, mostly as young people, will develop hives.

When immune substances called mast cells enter the bloodstream, they squirt out histamine. As histamine enters the blood cells, the blood vessels become swollen and leaky, and form the red, scratchy bump known as the hive. Foods such as nuts, licorice, and blue cheese, aspirin, sunscreen, medications, exercise, hot showers, even a bra strap can cause hives.

The standard treatment for hives is an antihistamine to relieve the itch and inflammation. If the hives don’t go away after six weeks with antihistamine treatment, a doctor generally will want to run tests.

If you dislike taking antihistamines, there are some natural remedies that can help to relieve the itch that causes the hives to worsen.

A ten-minute soak in a lukewarm oatmeal bath can help relieve itching. Rubbing an ice cube for a few minutes will constrict the blood vessel, prevent further blood leakage, and shrink the hive. Stay cool and wear loose clothing, including shoes. Do not eat tomatoes, shellfish, strawberries, or citrus fruits while you have hives. Parsley inhibits histamine and can be blended into carrot juice to taste better.

Stinging nettle taken in capsules contains enough histamine to help and not enough histamine to harm, while containing other substances that help heal hives. Jewelweed contains a compound called lawsone, which can stop itching instantly when applied externally in a solution.

A hive that doesn’t go away after 24 hours or leaves a bruise in its wake, is not a normal hive. A doctor should check for thyroid disease. Hives around the eyes or in the mouth, or difficulty breathing, are signals to get to an emergency room. Hives in the throat can cause the throat to swell and close, bringing on suffocation.