What are hives?

Understanding your skin condition

Hives occur as an inflammatory immune response, caused by mast cells releasing chemicals including histamine underneath the lining of the skin. This response creates irritation of nerve endings, resulting in itch and irritation, while blood vessels release fluid causing the distinctive localised swelling of hives. 

These itchy welts or ‘wheals’ are usually round or oval in shape, either flesh coloured or pink to red in colour, and can even join to create large areas of raised skin. They can appear rapidly, change shape, disappear and reappear within minutes. For people with chronic hives however, the condition can persist for weeks or months on end.

close up of raised welts hives red skin on wrist of adult
close up of female hand scratching back of other hand with nails

The problem isn’t just skin deep

Want to treat hives naturally and permanently?  

There is no one single cause of hives. So when a patient comes to our practice seeking natural support for hives, our practitioners take a deeper look at what is going on for the individual.

At Melbourne Functional Medicine, our practitioners offer a proactive and personalised approach to uncovering, and addressing, the root cause and contributing factors specific to your condition, to help soothe hives naturally and solve hives for good.


Who can get hives?

Chronic urticaria can affect anyone, of any age, but hives are more common in women compared to men, and the peak age band is from 20 to 40 years old. Hives in children is very common.

Family history can also play a role, and genetic links have been found.

Despite being an unpredictable condition, there is a common thread of hives causing disruption to other aspects of health and life, including sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, impaired performance at work and school, and limitations on daily life. 

Unfortunately, many people with chronic hives report feeling like these aspects of the condition aren’t acknowledged, and their condition isn’t taken seriously. 

It can be particularly frustrating when they seek help and receive conventional medicines which only provide temporary relief.

What causes hives?

Hives on skin can occur for a range of different reasons, and as such, there is a range of different classifications of hives:

  • Acute spontaneous urticaria: Spontaneous occurrence of wheals and/or angioedema for less than six weeks.
  • Chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU): Spontaneous occurrence of wheals and/or angioedema for a total duration of six weeks or more. This is synonymous with ‘chronic urticaria’ and ‘chronic idiopathic urticaria.’
  • Chronic inducible urticaria (CIndU): Occurrence of wheals for a total duration of six weeks or more, which is inducible by physical factors (touch, pressure extremes). This is synonymous with physical urticaria.


Other types: Aquagenic, cholinergic urticaria, exercise induced urticaria, contact urticaria.

When a patient comes to our practice seeking natural support for hives treatment, our practitioners take a deeper look at what is going on for the individual. Contributing factors can include:

Autoimmune disorders: Science is yet to fully understand the etiology of chronic spontaneous urticaria, but the leading hypothesis ties one of the main causes of hives to autoimmune dysfunction, which makes the body release histamine in response to its own immune cells. This theory is backed by findings that up to 40 percent of patients with CSU develop hives as a result of having their own serum injected into their skin. There is also a high prevalence of autoimmune disorders among people with hives, including hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, Sjogren syndrome, coeliac disease and type-1 diabetes

Infections: Some cases of urticaria develop in response to infections of external organisms and pathogens, including bacteria like helicobacter pylori, streptococci, staphylococci, yersinia, mycoplasma and pneumoniae; viruses including hepatitis, norovirus and parvovirus, and parasites like giardia.

Allergies, sensitivities and additives: People often assume foods or food additives are causing their hives. And while food allergies can trigger acute cases of hives, foods are rarely the cause of chronic urticaria. Instead, certain high histamine foods and inflammatory ingredients may push already elevated histamine levels over the edge. For this reason, our practitioners work with patients to identify their potential food triggers, and eliminate any aggravating foods from the diet. 

Gut health: People with chronic hives have a high prevalence of dysbiosis of the gastrointestinal tract and low levels of Vitamin D3. By addressing these two factors with probiotics, supplements and dietary change, we can downregulate the inflammatory state of the body and reduce the risk of hive outbreaks.

Stress: Emotional stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation in the body. It is this inflammatory response mechanism that can trigger hives. Research has found periods of high mental and emotional stress can both precede the onset of urticaria, and exacerbate symptoms after onset of the condition. Integrating stress management strategies and relaxation activities like yoga, meditation and mindfulness as well as healthy sleep habits can all work to assist in restoring a healthy balance. All of these factors are integral to  anxiety and stress hives treatment, along with supporting the body's increased nutrient needs when under stress. 

Environment: The dynamic and ever-changing environment around us can be a never-ending source of potential aggravators. Plants, animals, bites and stings, heat, and cold can all contribute to a range of inflammatory skin conditions including hives. Some environmental factors can be difficult to pinpoint, but they’re one of the easiest causes to address by simply removing or avoiding them where possible.

Pressure: As with all skin conditions, it’s important to avoid irritation of hives. Any type of direct pressure, from firm friction to clothes brushing lightly against the skin, can further aggravate the condition. This is particularly true for inducible urticaria, which includes the better known dermographism - a condition which causes the skin to swell in response to touch. People with this condition can even ‘draw’ pictures or words on their skin by simply tracing a finger over it.

Exercise: Many of us claim to have an allergy to exercise, but people with exercise-induced urticaria quite literally do. A combination of heat, sweat, friction and cardiovascular exertion creates the ‘perfect storm’ for aggravating hive outbreaks. Exercise is still an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so our practitioners will look for options to help you stay active, while avoiding further irritation of your skin.

What causes eczema?


Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.


Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

Forget antihistamines. Treat the cause, naturally

Start here

Natural vs conventional hives treatments

Conventional medicines like antihistamines aim to dampen the histamine response and potentially reduce the inflammation and swelling associated with hives after they occur.

At Melbourne Functional Medicine we take a more natural approach to hives treatment in Australia to understand the root cause and the contributing factors specific to you.

The Melbourne Functional Medicine approach to hives

At Melbourne Functional Medicine, our practitioners offer a proactive and personalised approach to uncovering, and addressing, the root cause and contributing factors specific to your condition, to help solve hives for good.

Testing: We provide a range of functional testing options to first help establish the underlying contributors, which can include testing for infections, food allergies and inflammation levels in the body.

Treatment options: Our practitioners then tailor a treatment plan including dietary changes, gut health support, probiotics, nutritional supplements, herbal medicines and lifestyle changes to help you address and correct these imbalances.

If you suffer with hives you may have already tried some or all of these treatments and found limited or only short-term relief. Our skin health practitioner, Rebecca Hughes can work with you to find real answers to why your hives are occurring and how you can treat the cause effectively and naturally. Listen to Rebecca’s talk about the functional medicine approach to skin health here.

happy middle aged woman cradling young boy smiling in her arms at the beach

Case study

See how functional medicine is helping our patients achieve better health and richer lives.

At Melbourne Functional Medicine, we’ll work with you to address the root cause of your hives naturally and effectively, using our revolutionary approach to healthcare. Learn more about our unique program.

Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment for your skin? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how by clicking the button below.


Are hives contagious?

No. Hives are an inflammatory response from the immune system in response to an environmental factor such as allergens, so are not contagious.

How to soothe hives naturally?

Natural topical treatments like oatmeal baths, witch hazel and aloe vera lotions can soothe hives, however are not a remedy for the condition.

While hives can resolve on their own, chronic hives requires a comprehensive treatment that seeks to address the cause of the inflammatory response in the skin.

Can stress cause hives?

Emotional stress can lead to inflammation in the body that can trigger hives.

Research has found that periods of high stress can precede onset of hives, and make symptoms worse after the onset of hives.

Stress reduction strategies like meditation, yoga and mindfulness can help resolve hives, as is supporting the body with nutrients required in greater amounts when the body is under stress.

How long can hives take to go away?

Acute cases will usually resolve or fade within 24 hours, however for more chronic cases, episodes can last for six weeks or more. Chronic hives can be treated naturally to reduce the duration and avoid reoccurrence.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.