Skin Allergy Snapshots: Urticaria

Over 70% of Pai customers suffer from some kind of skin allergy or sensitivity.

As well as being uncomfortable and distracting, skin allergies can also seriously dent our confidence.

With this is mind, I thought I’d start a blog series that deals with common skin complaints. I’ll discuss their symptoms and causes as well as natural ways to control them, so they don’t control you.

Part one in the series will focus on an allergy very close to home: urticaria.

In terms of advice available, urticaria lives in the shadow of better known conditions like acne and eczema, and as a result sufferers are often left in the dark.

What is urticaria and what does it look like?
Urticaria, also known as hives, is an allergic rash consisting of raised bumpy red weals.

Like all allergies, the manifestations of urticaria vary from person to person, but I find it most often appears accross my upper back and shoulder blades.

Although it never breaks the skin, the rash is extremely itchy and hot to the touch, making urticaria an unsightly and uncomfortable condition to live with.

Though everyone’s urticaria experience is different, there are thought to be three main types:

  • Acute urticaria. Flares fairly quickly after contact with an allergen and can last anything from a few hours to six weeks. Heat or exercise can be a trigger but food allergies tend to be the most common cause.
  • Chronic urticaria. Less likely to be caused by an allergy or physical stimulus and lasts for over six weeks. This type is termed ‘idiopathic’ (of unknown cause), which can make it difficult to diagnose.
  • Physical urticaria. Triggered by a physical stimulus (anything from heat to water) and only lasts for a couple of hours.

Most common triggers

Food
Food allergies tend to be the most common trigger of acute urticaria but can be a problem across the board.

Eggs, shellfish, tomatoes and nuts tend to be the worst culprits. Alcohol can also be a trigger (especially wine in me!)

It is often recommended that you keep a food diary for a month so that you can identify your personal intolerances.

Salicylates
Salicylates are another major cause and is a subject I’ve written fairly extensively about in the past.

Salicylates can be found in a number of foods but also in things like aspirin and paracetamol, which is why doctors always recommend avoiding these types of analgesics.

Stress
Urticaria often relapses when we’re stressed or tired, when our natural defences are down.

As I blogged last month, the mind and body are interconnected, so maintaining a steady emotional balance can help reduce flares.

Physical Abrasion
The most obvious trigger for me is physical abrasion. Sufferers of urticaria tend to have such hyper-sensitive skin, that rubbing or scratching it causes the tell-tale red lines to appear. This reaction is known as dermatographism.

Chemicals in our Environment
As is common for a lot of people, the onset of urticaria made my skin generally hyper-sensitive.

After a lot of research and testing, I identified a few common ingredients in my beauty products that my skin really didn’t respond well too – the worst offenders tended to be synthetic preservatives (Phenoxyethanol) and fragrances (Parfum) in cosmetics.

Pai was born from my search for an alternative!

Treatment
Doctor’s often prescribe anti-histamines as a treatment – in severe cases they’ll even prescribe two, one to take in the day and another for at night.

Anti-histamines provide only temporary relief and long-term are believed to thin the skin and make us more susceptible to flare-ups.

Quercitin is nature’s anti-histamine and is considered a more effective alternative, as it blocks the release of histamines rather than just masking their effects. To find out exactly how it works, read my earlier blog.

Other natural remedies are available. ‘Urtica’ translates from Latin as ‘nettle’, and it is thought that nettle teas and other nettle-related homeopathic treatments can also be beneficial.