What Having Full Body Hives Felt Like and How I Treated It

For those of you who know me or have read my story on why I started this company, you know I really f****ing hate to itch…it drives me mad…temporarily insane, really.  I have very sensitive skin and I have a history of developing urticaria (hives) very easily when my leg or ankle brushes up against grasses or plants I am allergic to.  One time many years ago, I was hiking on a cliff-side trail along the Oregon coast with my bestie, and we were kicking up a lot of pollen from the bushes that had overgrown the sides of the trail.  The puffy clouds of yellow dust that exploded from these pollen-laden seaside shrubs were nearly disastrous for me – I developed full-body hives…EVEN ON THE WHITES OF MY EYEBALLS.  When breathing became laborious, I started to get scared.  But even in the event of this severe reaction, my lifelong friend Benadryl saved me.  Within 30 minutes the reaction halted and within a few hours I was normal again.

In recent years, I discovered a natural anti-histamine that didn’t dope me up like Benadryl does.  This product is called Antronex and is made by Standard Process.  It contains a bovine liver extract (called Yakriton) that increases the speed at which the blood is filtered through the liver.  So it does not stop the histamine release by mast cells, but it clears the histamine from the blood faster.  It has been a miracle medicine for me when I am gardening or hiking…times when bare skin may accidentally brush up against plants I am allergic to.  If I got hives from walking through certain grasses, I’d take 3 Antronex and they would be gone in 15 minutes.  It worked better for me than Benadryl and I never went outdoors in the summer without it.

Cold-induced urticaria.

Sometimes in the dry winter here in Colorado, I would get hives after scratching the itchy dry skin along my waistline.  The skin would just be dry, no little papules (bumps) or other visible lesions.  I’d scratch and then poof!…hives appear.  This was easy to fix, though.  A little lotion to relieve the dryness and voilà!… no more hives.  Zi Zai Dermatology’s Eczeherbal Cream is exceptional for this winter dry skin condition, especially when the skin is really itchy.  I have even developed what is known as physical urticaria when I run – most often in response to cold when I run in the early morning and my skin is exposed to freezing cold air.  But once my butt broke out in hives from the vibration of my jiggling tushy on a run.  Seriously, it happened.  It’s called vibratory urticaria.

In all of these instances, I may have developed the acute urticaria (hives) rapidly, but they also resolved rapidly.  Then, at the end of December 2017, I developed hives overnight…and they stayed.  I cannot say what triggered them…I’d had no direct contact with a triggering plant, I did not inhale any pollen, nor were they in response to scratching dry winter skin or being exposed to cold.  I did eat at a restaurant, so maybe it was something in the food (a spice or some food additive maybe, because I have no known food allergies).  I had been under a considerable amount of emotional stress at the time, and I think this played a crucial factor in the outbreak.

These hives came on fast and furious. And though they may be small, they pack a big itch!

The hives began as somewhat papular urticaria – red bump with a pale white flare surrounding it.  They began on my lower legs and quickly began sprouting further up my legs, onto my torso and eventually my arms as well.  My face was spared, thank goodness.  But holy crap did these suckers itch!  It was horrible.  It was a prickly sensation immediately followed by intense itch.  And every time I scratched at it, it made it SO much worse.  The lower legs were the absolute worst…the itching was so extreme and insatiable.  I tried my best not to give in to the itch, but some nights I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I would scratch, just a little, you know…to give me some relief.  And for about 3 to 5 seconds, the scratching was almost orgasmic in its relief of the itch.  But after 5 seconds, I would pay a heavy price for that moment of pleasure.  The skin would flare intensely – dermographism (linear wheals form in response to stroking/scratching the skin) was rampant, the skin would turn bright red, and hundreds of new wheals/papules would sprout up instantly.  And the itch would intensify tenfold.  It was horrible.  I scratched myself bloody and cried because it was so physically and mentally uncomfortable.

Dermographism on my thigh.

I took Benadryl around the clock that first weekend.  It did not stop the reaction, but it suppressed the rapid progression.  I could feel the minute the Benadryl was wearing off.  New hives would instantly take the place of ones that were waning and the itch would creep up past a tolerable threshold.  And of course, I felt like my head was in space and I was so so tired from the drug.  I took Antronex, too.  Every hour.  It had the same effect as the Benadryl…would only slow things down but did not stop or reverse the reaction, as it in past cases for me.  I couldn’t sleep due to the itching.  It worsened when my legs would press against each other (like when I was lying in bed on my side) or when they pressed against the mattress when I was lying on my back.  Clothes touching the skin tickled and aggravated things, but bare skin touching other hive-covered bare skin was even worse.  I had to wear pants to bed, but the trapped heat exacerbated the hives, too!  I couldn’t win here!   I was going insane.  My thighs and calves were scabbed and bruised from scratching so hard on bare skin and from rubbing them so vigorously when I had pants on.  Then they were bruised because I remembered that pain trumps itch in the brain, and so I started smacking the skin, which worked better than scratching it to reduce itch (for a few moments, anyway).

Scratching made more hives appear instantly but I couldn’t stop myself.

A colleague suggested I try a homeopathic remedy for acute hives called Apis Mellifica 6C.  It helped for the first few hours and I was optimistic that it would be the thing that finally stopped the new hives from forming.  But it didn’t.  It was the same as the Benadryl and Antronex…it only slowed the progression a bit.  I also used a topical antihistamine with an analgesic in it.  That gave me about 45 minutes to an hour of reduced itching after each application.  I went through a lot of it.  It was time to turn to Chinese herbs.  For some stupid reason, I kept hoping I wouldn’t have to go through the whole process of writing a prescription, filling it and cooking it up.  I really wanted to believe that the urticaria would resolve quickly, like it always had in the past.  But on day 4 I could not take it anymore and we cooked up an internal herbal prescription for me.  And I made a new experimental external medicine to apply topically to stop the itch.  And once again, the power of Chinese herbal medicine amazed me.

Within 45 minutes of taking the first dose of herbs, the itching decreased noticeably.  Of course, the other remedies had had this effect, too, so I tried not to get my hopes up.  I could feel the itching intensify as the herbs wore off.  The urticaria still flared each night.  And there were a few nights where I didn’t have the fortitude to resist scratching, so I made it worse a few more times.  The internal herbs clearly were finally having more than a temporary impact on the condition.  Fewer hives would pop up and the skin was less reactive each day.  But if I skipped a dose of herbs, things would worsen again (clearly the hives were not ready to go away on their own yet).  The topical anti-itch gel I had made worked better than the Benadryl brand antihistamine-analgesic gel but it was messy.  So I would use the Benadryl gel during the day at work and my own herbal gel every night.  I thought I could apply the EczeHerbal Cream on my legs after showering to moisten the skin, but this was aggravating while the hives were still active and developing…as if it trapped too much heat, maybe(?).  So I did not use any emollient to soften the skin yet.  I found that scrubs (cotton blend) pants worked the best to wear to bed – satin pajama pants were too light (they would slide up to easily when I moved my legs while sleeping and the material tickled my inflamed skin) and flannel pajama pants were too hot.

Bruising of my thigh where I had scratched/rubbed/smacked to stop the insane itching.

After 1.5 weeks on the Chinese herbs, things calmed down considerably.  Since the itching was most intense at night, I found that taking one dose of herbs before dinner and the second dose right before bed worked best.  In the last few days, no new wheals or papules have developed.  And the itch is finally almost gone.  Hallelujah! I can sleep again.  I still have some scabs, but now I can apply the Eczeherbal Cream after I shower in the morning and the damaged skin is healing quickly. The herbs don’t taste great, but I actually crave them because I feel so much better after each dose.  It is not always easy to stay on an herbal regimen, but when the results are that obvious and that rapid, it really is incentive to carry on and not skip a single dose.

I will still continue to keep Antronex on hand for acute urticaria due to contact with plants or inhaled pollen.  And I will keep Benadryl in the medicine cabinet for emergencies.  But if this type of urticaria ever happens to me again, you can bet I am turning to Chinese herbs much sooner than I did this time.  And right now, I am going to take my herbs well past the point of clear skin.  It is obvious that the environment of my body is one in which urticaria can be triggered with little outside influence.  In order to reduce my risk of developing chronic urticaria (hives that last longer than 6 weeks or are very recurrent), I need to balance the energetic conditions inside my body so my skin is not so reactive.  I will take my current prescription until all the current inflammation is completely gone and the skin is completely clear. Then I will take what is called a “consolidation” formula.  This consolidation formula will further address the underlying energetic imbalances that led to the manifestation of hives in the first place…the environment that allowed them to develop and to linger for so long.  If I skip this step in the treatment process, I will be prone to going through this horrible experience again.  I will not allow that!

Further Information About My Case for TCM Practitioners:

Aloe, Chinese herbs and other ingredients. Looks like baby puke but gave me relief from the itch and cooled the skin. Will work on the consistency of it before we make it available for purchase.

Both acute and chronic urticaria can have one (or more) of several possible underlying TCM patterns at the core.  In my case, if I had just gone by the appearance of the lesions, I don’t think I would have gotten the diagnosis right.  The lesions looked like the type of hives seen in cholinergic urticaria (a recurrent type of urticaria that develops after the body gets hot and sweats, from exercise or emotional stress) – small, red, papular lesions rather than the typical pale wheal.  The most common TCM pattern for that type of urticaria is Hot Blood Generates Wind.  I will admit, I definitely have a component of Heat in the Blood at play here.  But more predominant in my picture is Damp Heat of the Spleen (Spleen Qi Xu with Dampness and Heat developing).  I have a past history of loose stools and bloating (improved in recent years), some degree of pitting edema at the ankles, heaviness of my legs (they feel heavy to me and no matter how much weight I lose, they stay “thick”), occasional mild leukorrhea, low vitality.  Two years ago I developed pompholyx eczema of the feet that keeps returning (another manifestation of Spleen Damp Heat, with Toxins in this case).  Several years ago I had shingles of the face that clearly were of the Spleen Damp with Fire Toxin variety (see my post about that here).  There is also some underlying Liver Qi Stagnation and Some Blood Stasis as well if we dive into the details of my menstrual cycle (past history of painful menses with clots and heavy bleeding which is no longer an issue). My pulses are weak and my tongue is big, puffy, scalloped, thin greasy yellow coat at back (frankly I think most of the yellow in this photo is from having just drank my herbs), with a small crack developing in the center (this indicates Heat developing in the Middle Jiao, but my tongue is not red, so the Dampness is more predominant than the Heat at this point). So yes, there is more to the picture than just Spleen Dampness with Heat developing, but I was certain this current skin issue was more closely related to the recent pompholyx eczema and I chose to treat it as such.  Would I have gotten similar results if I approached it as a pattern of Hot Blood Generates Wind?  Maybe.  If it occurs again, for the sake of science I can try treating it as Hot Blood and compare the results of treatment.  But I have gotten great results from the current treatment and my body craves those herbs…I feel so good after taking them.  Not only have the hives resolved, but the edema that is so typically present in my ankles is 75% improved, too.  My digestion is great and my vitality is improving.  I have only been on the herbs for 2 weeks now.

Here was my initial formula for MY CASE of urticaria: (raw herbs, 1 bag for 1 day)

Taking my herbs.

Cang Zhu 9 g
Chen Pi 12
Fu Ling 12
Ze Xie 12
Fang Feng 12
Jing Jie 9
Qiang Huo 9
Mu Xiang 9
Fu Ping 15  (I love this herbs for all patterns of urticaria)
Chan Tui 9
Gan Cao 6

TOTAL 126 g

This week I made minor adjustments to the prescription – Drain more Dampness, address some Blood Heat:

Cang Zhu 9 g
Chen Pi 12
Fu Ling 12
Ze Xie 12
Fang Feng 12
Jing Jie 9
Qiang Huo 9
Chan Tui 9
Yi Yi Ren 30
Fu Ping 15
Mu Dan Pi 12
Gan Cao 6

TOTAL 147 g

If all goes according to plan, next week, I will remove the Exterior-Releasing herbs and Tonify Spleen a bit more.  The formula will likely look something like this:

Cang Zhu 9 g
Chen Pi 12
Fu Ling 12
Ze Xie 12
Bai Zhu 12
Qiang Huo 9
Yi Yi Ren 30
Chi Shao 9
Mu Dan Pi 12
Gan Cao 6

TOTAL 123 g

UPDATE February 13, 2018:  The urticaria was fully resolved after 2.5 weeks of taking the internal Chinese herbs.  Dermographism was still easy to elicit, so I continued herbs for another 1.5 weeks (until I got too busy caring for patients that I forgot to continue caring for myself – shame on me!).  No more hives, no more dermographism.  My skin is still dry (it has been a very dry winter here in Colorado) and this will take time to improve in this climate, but it no longer itches.  Hallelujah!

Tags: antihistamine, Chinese herbal medicine, chinese herbs, Chinese medicine, dermographism, featured, hives, itch, itchy skin, natural dermatology, urticaria

Topics: Allergies, Chinese Medicine, Herbs for Skin Care, Rashes

Publish Date: February 13, 2018     *Articles may include updates since original publishing.

About the Author ()

Diana Hermann is a licensed acupuncturist and board certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine. She received her Master Degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, OR and trained in China at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Diana treats patients in her Fort Collins, Colorado clinic and hand crafts herbal skin care products for her company Zi Zai Dermatology. In 2015, she completed the Diploma In Chinese Medicine Dermatology program from Avicenna in London, UK.

Comments (15)

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  1. MikeWilkes says:

    This sounds very similar to what I am currently experiencing. I have wheals/hives that appeared in different locations, on my face, and they slowly progressed into a single lesion. The swollen area gets irritated when covered up or touched and it is more active in the early hours of the morning. The symptoms begin with a prickly sensation followed by burning and swelling in the area and it occurs on a daily basis with no method to stop it from repeating itself (Benadryl, etc. does not work). There is no trigger that I can find to cause this to occur on a daily basis. I will try the Antronex to see if it can help.

    Is that particular herb mix available at the store? if not, where can I purchase?

    • Yes, you can purchase Antronex directly from us at our Fort Collins shop (we do not sell internal medicine online). If you are not in our area, you might try Googling health care practitioners who carry Standard Process products. Chronic/recurrent urticaria (hives) responds very well to Chinese Medicine. I am here for you in Fort Collins (or a colleague of mine who is closer to you) if you ever decide to try internal customized Chinese Medicine to resolve this issue. 🙂

  2. Heidi Dunn says:

    Diana, I really love that you post your experiences on your blog and assist TCM practitioners with details of the case history. Makes excellent teaching…thank you

  3. Susannah G Neal says:

    Diana

    Thanks for this blog post and my deepest empathy for the suffering. Glad the herbs worked and thanks for posting the formula. I also have had major skin pathology. Have you treated folliculitis? Thanks

  4. Mia says:

    Hello Good day from Montreal,

    I’m so happy to hv found yr site while I was researching a cure for my hives ive been battling for 2 years now.
    Its so depressing dealing with my condition and after reading yr article I see yr pics which look like my body.
    I’m currently seeing a tcm dr here in MONTREAL with whom I am doing bi weekly acupuncture and herbs.
    Hv a seen a great difference?…Yes, but I just want my skin clear again. I cnt wear anything above my knees or sleeveless. My face is also affected.
    How would I buy yr herbs or can you please refer me to someone here in Montreal.
    This morning I ate an egg muffin now I’m in fresh hives.
    Please summer is here I’m sweating with so much clothing to hide my skin.
    Help me please
    Sincerely
    Mia Canada

    • Go see Alain Bernard, L.Ac. at Clinique Althéa http://www.cliniquealthea.com

      • Mia says:

        Good Afternoon

        Thank uou gor taking the time to reply to my email. I will contact him immediately! Each month once my menstruation on sets so do my hives. My Dr would like to put me on a drug so I will go into Menopause hoping that will solve my hives. I hv refused to take the drug.
        I pray that I will find a cure in TCM so my life can be restored back to normal.

        God Bless You
        Mia Canada

  5. G.H. says:

    Oh wow, that looks awful, so painful and distracting. I am glad it finally got better.

    It was interesting to read your story, and hear the “patient’s side” of it, then “the medical practitioner’s side”.

    It reminded me of a post on an allopathic dermatologist’s blog that I read yesterday, where she talked about having dandruff herself, and wrote something like, “You don’t want your patients to think, ‘Sheesh, my dermatologist looks like she needs to see a dermatologist!’ ” 😉

    It was ‘funny’ (in a manner of speaking) to read that, despite your clear and overwhelming physical distress, you had procrastinated on applying your own medicine to yourself, and had tried some hopefully-quicker stuff, some off-the-shelf solutions:
    “It was time to turn to Chinese herbs. For some stupid reason, I kept hoping I wouldn’t have to go through the whole process of writing a prescription, filling it and cooking it up.”
    I can relate to doing this type of thing in my own life. 🙂

    I don’t know if you have it all the time, or only when you had the hives, but I also have a “big, puffy, scalloped” tongue — one naturopath I met casually in a bar in a foreign country looked at my tongue with a flashlight that he just happened to have in his pocket (we were sitting at the same table in the bar) ((it was honestly in the course of a normal and above-board conversation!)) and he exclaimed, “Look at those scallops, it’s like a pie crust!”

    What can one do about that? (I expect that I am asking rhetorically, since I am commenting on an old blog post.) I tried to look the topic up online in years past, but never really found out if there is anything concrete (in the search results that were in English) that I can do about it. What does it mean?

    PS – The hives on your bottom while doing early morning runs in cold weather is likely to be nature’s way of saying that it’s obviously saner and healthier to stay cozy under the covers for an extra 45 minutes and get some beauty sleep. 🙂

    • HAHAHA! Great comments. Yes, most mornings I would much rather stay snuggled up in bed rather then get out and run in the cold.
      Big, puffy, scalloped tongues, indicate Qi Xu (deficiency, usually of the Spleen Qi) and/or Dampness Accumulation – according to Chinese Medicine. We often will employ acupuncture or herbal (internal) treatment to balance out or Tonify the proper organs/energy systems to bring the body into a healthier state. And yes, my tongue is almost always big and puffy with scalloped sides. I am constitutionally deficient in Spleen Qi and alsways have some degree of Dampness.

  6. G.H. says:

    About Benadryl, I realize you wrote that you take it very infrequently – just in emergencies.

    I don’t know much about medications, but a couple of years ago I read some worrying news stories about Benadryl and similar medicines. It seems that there are some contraindications that may not be obvious to the normal person. Here are some articles:

    1. “Common anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl linked to increased dementia risk”
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/common-anticholinergic-drugs-like-benadryl-linked-increased-dementia-risk-201501287667

    (And check out the link in the above article to the 2008 Indiana University list of anti-cholinergic drugs, “which ranks these drugs according to the severity of their effects on the mind.”
    After reading that drug chart a few years ago, I helped some elderly relatives talk to their doctor about substituting some of their medicines that were on that list for ones that are not.)

    2. “Common over-the-counter drugs can hurt your brain”
    https://www-m.cnn.com/2016/04/18/health/otc-anticholinergic-drugs-dementia/

    3. “How I almost killed my mom with a simple anti-itch pill”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-i-almost-killed-my-mom-with-a-simple-anti-itch-pill/2017/05/05/63359b74-1496-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0e63025e54a1

    • Yes, and I think this risk applies more to people who use these drugs regularly or inappropriately. Once in a while use is not likely to lead to such concerns. Thank you for sharing…it is very relevant for this blog and readers should understand the risks of ANY medicines they choose to use – pharmaceutical or natural. I appreciate your contribution here.

  7. Ellen Fried says:

    Hi, I’ve been suffering from chronic hives since November 2017 this time. I’ve had this condition on and off for 19 years. The only thing that cured me was acupuncture and raw herbs. This time around my herbalist doesn’t do the acupuncture anymore, he just dispenses the herbs, someone else does does the acupuncture . I’ve been taking the herbs since January. It’s gotten a little better but I’m still having them all over every day. I went to an allergist who gave me a xolair shot to calm it down. I’m scared of the side effects. It also doesn’t help long term. I’d really love to find someone who knows how to help me naturally. This is going on way too long and I’m so depressed that the herbs are not helping so much. I also have autoimmune thyrodidis. Do you know of anyone in the Edison, NJ area that can help me? I’m so scared. I take Zantac and Allegra every day as a antihistamine.
    Thank you,
    Ellen Fried

  8. tammy says:

    Thank you for sharing. This is very helpful. I am dealing with full body hives – we think due to killing Bartonella. Can you refer someone close to Murfreesboro, TN? Thank you

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