freedom from chronic hives one mother's story



My battle With chronic hives (also known as chronic urticaria or CU) began in a perplexing way. Four weeks after being in a car accident, I developed painful welts on my back that felt like a sunburn. The spots eventually faded, but then more appeared, covering my torso, arms and legs. My doctor suspected one of my pain medications was to blame and suggested I try some Benadryl. But instead of experiencing relief, I woke up with a swollen face, a partially closed airway and intense chest pain — something I would suffer for years to come. I rushed to the emergency room and was given a large dose of prednisone and an Epipen (injectable adrenaline) to use if the swelling returned.

Thus began my six-year struggle with this mysterious condition. I saw numerous specialists who ruled out different allergies and illnesses and tried various medications to no avail. Several months into my flare-up, I reached an immunologist who diagnosed me with CU, more specifically "chronic idiopathic urticaria with angioedema," which basically means chronic hives and tissue swelling lasting longer than six weeks with no known cause.

Eventually, I discovered a combo of two antihistamines and a high dose of prednisone that controlled my symptoms enough to function. It wasn't a cure, but it was an improvement.

The Turning Point
Five months after having my daughter, the CU struck again. Already tired from the demands of new motherhood, I simply took the pills and waited to heal. Overall, I grew less healthy. I gained weight from the prednisone, lost energy and became deeply depressed.

As the next few years passed, my anxiety over each welt or momentary shortness of breath gradually waned. Then one day while walking with my daughter, my thighs began to burn. I instantly knew what was happening and began to panic. Here I was, the mother of a young child, in one of the happiest and most active phases of my life, and for no comprehensible reason I believed it was all about to end. Then I suddenly felt myself gaining control. At that moment, I decided I was ready to look at alternative healing options.

A Natural Treatment Plan Takes Shape
I began with my diet. The last two times I had been ill with CU, I had casually attempted a low-histamine diet, but this time I was rigid about it. Histamines are the chemicals produced by the body, in response to an allergen, that cause allergic symptoms such as hives and swelling. However, many foods contain histamine themselves. The diet I followed was based in part on the book Dietary Management of Food Allergies & Intolerances: A Comprehensive Guide by Janice Vickerstaff Joneja, PhD, RDN.

Then, for good measure, I made all those other nagging diet changes I had always wanted to make — eventually ending up with a whole-foods, organic diet. I have found that I do best if I cut out refined wheat, refined sugar, benzoates and artificial colors.

Next, I booked an appointment with a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, who used acupuncture, suction cups and other therapies.

Forgiving Myself, Feeling Stronger
Healing happened quickly. The chest pain and joint swelling were completely relieved by acupuncture, and dietary changes reduced the hives. Happily, I decreased the number of medications I was taking.

During the times I let my diet slide, my joints would swell and the hives and fatigue would return or worsen. I eventually came to understand that changing my diet was an act of love, a way to respect my body — it's not a punishment for being ill.

I am not cured, but I am stronger and my reliance on medication is minimal. I am realizing that I cannot do battle with my own body. I need to care for and nurture myself, and mostly I need to forgive myself for not being immune to illness.

The choices I make each day reflect this. When I eat healthy foods, make time for yoga and acupuncture and seek the joyful company of compassionate friends, I support my healing. Not every day is perfect, but I am learning to make peace with my body.

"I eventually came to understand that changing my diet was an act of love … not a punishment for being ill," says Selkirk.

NATURAL MEDICINE CLINIC: three ways to control hives

Commonly referred to as chronic hives, CU is a persistent skin condition that can be difficult to treat. As Diane can attest, mainstream medical treatments are oftentimes limited and not very effective. It's important to understand that CU usually has multiple causes. Therefore, an effective treatment plan must address underlying aggravating factors. Some of the most common triggers are foods, pollens, chemicals, pets, cosmetics, insect bites, stress and medication. A family history of CU can also increase a person's risk. While symptoms are diverse and can vary from person to person, most CU sufferers, like Diane, have some type of rash or welts.

Here are some natural options that can help reduce the severity and frequency of chronic hives.

STRESS LESS. Stress is strongly associated with flare-ups of CU. As Diane mentions, learning to manage stress is essential to controlling the condition. Adjusting your outlook on life — including your thoughts and attitudes about the disease — is one place to start. A stress-relieving daily activity, such as yoga, tai chi, visualization or meditation, can also help. Create a support system of family and friends, and look for humor in everyday situations. Two herbs — Siberian ginseng and ashwagandha — can also help by strengthening your body's resistance to stress. The recommended dose for ashwagandha is 500-100mg three times daily or 1 tsp. two to three times daily of tincture. Use 500mg three times daily of Siberian ginseng or 1 tsp. of tincture two to three times daily. Both herbs should be used for three to six months for best results.
FOLLOW A LOW-HISTAMINE DIET. Maintaining a low-histamine, low-allergen diet considerably lightens the immune system's load and helps lessen symptoms. Foods to avoid include gluten grains, dairy products, peanuts, bananas, citrus fruits, eggs, shellfish, hydrogenated fats, processed foods, soy products, chocolate and almonds, as well as food additives, flavorings and colorings. Oranges, shellfish and many artificial colorings are particularly histamine-raising. Consume plenty of fresh organic vegetables and fruits (noncitrus if you are sensitive), especially those that are red, orange, purple and blue — these tend to be high in natural antihistamines. Get plenty of fiber by eating beans, lentils and whole grains every day along with the fresh organic produce. Also, drink plenty of water and avoid caffeinated drinks and beverages with high-fructose corn syrup. Drinking anti-inflammatory herbal teas several times a day, such as nettle or green tea, can also help.
TRY ANTI-INFLAMMATORY NUTRIENTS. Using anti-inflammatory supplements daily can help lower your body's histamine toad, stabilize histamine-releasing cells and lessen symptoms. Take capsules or tablets of the bioflavonoid quercetin, 500mg three times a day 20 minutes before meals, plus omega-3 and omega-6 oils, 2,000-3,000mg daily of omega-3s and 1,000mg daily of omega-6s.

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By Diane Selkirk

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