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Treat Hives (Urticaria) with Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture in Toronto


Hives, also called Urticaria, is one of the most common skin conditions affecting millions of people every year. Chinese Medicine has been effectively treating this condition for thousands of years with herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments.

At the Kampo Health clinic in Toronto, allergy and skin conditions are something that I see frequently. I have patients dealing with acne, eczema, histamine intolerance, and both acute and chronic hives. Despite many things being called hives, there is a broad range of causes for the condition: Some are triggered by medications, some are triggered by a cold, and some are just by stress. No matter what the triggers are, my Chinese Medicine-based treatments for skin disorders are able to address the underlying imbalances in the body such as hyper-histamine reactions and regulate the abnormal skin reactions that cause the rashes, itchiness, and other symptoms.

Below I will outline the principle of treating hives and other skin conditions with Chinese Medicine—using both herbs and acupuncture. I will also mention two cases that were treated successfully with Chinese Medicine.


What are Hives (Urticaria)?

Hives are a rash characterized by intensely itchy welts, triggered by the body’s release of histamine and caused by an allergic response to multiple agents or conditions, including food, drugs, and infections.

What are the symptoms of Hives?

In many respects, chronic hives and acute hives may look alike, and they can show up anywhere on your body.

Signs of acute hives include:

  • Raised welts or bumps on your skin. (The bumps may look reddish on lighter-colored skin.)
  • Hives blanch. (The center of the hive becomes pale when pressed).
  • Itchy skin.
  • Swelling under the skin, causing puffiness (angioedema).
  • Painful swelling oflips, eyes, and inside the throat.

Chronic hives can be itchy, swollen, and raised welts that turn lighter in the center with pressure. However, chronic hives can:

  • Shift size and shape.
  • Appear, disappear, and then reappear every few days for long periods of time, even months or years.
  • Occur with heat, exercise, or stress.

How are Hives treated by Western Medicine?

  • Anti-Allergy medicine: Antihistamines are the most common drug to treat allergic conditions such as hives. It can relieve itching and reduce or suppress allergic reactions. They can be taken orally or topically. Some antihistamines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), react quickly.
  • Daily allergy medications, like Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Xyzal (levocetirizine).
  • For stubborn hives, monthly injections of drugs that block allergic reactions may be prescribed.
  • Oral steroids: Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can relieve symptoms that don’t respond to antihistamines or topical steroids.
  • Epinephrine/EpiPen: Severe and acute allergic reactions can lead to a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Symptoms include hives, swelling of your face, mouth or throat, shortness of breath, wheezing, vomiting, and low blood pressure. Anaphylaxis needs an immediate epinephrine injection to open blocked airways in the lungs.

How does Chinese Medicine treat skin disease Hives?

The health of our skin is closely related to the functions of Immune system and digestive system, both in Chinese Medicine and from my clinical experience. To treat skin conditions like hives naturally and effectively, it is necessary to examine and address these two systems to achieve the best therapeutic outcome.

Hives can also be present with other diseases such as acute viral/bacterial infections, food poisoning, and many digestive and auto-immune conditions. In Chinese Medicine, we have a holistic approach when it comes to treating skin diseases. We differentiate the conditions and treatment based on a variety of factors such as the nature of the rash, the health and medication history of the patient, individual constitutions, and genetic variations. This approach allows us to assess and treat various skin conditions such as hives, acne, eczema, and psoriasis quickly and effectively.


What Chinese herbs/formulas can stop Hives?

As mentioned above, Chinese Medicine practitioners use a holistic approach to assess conditions and use pattern differentiation to determine treatment.

For example, Hives in Chinese medicine belong to “wind” patterns—due to their changing and moving nature. Further down the analysis tree, “heat”(inflammation) and “blood”(vascular health) are the two main factors behind “wind” patterns. There is a very effective Chinese herbal formula developed several hundreds of years ago, called “Xiao Feng San/消风散”, meaning “Eliminate Wind Powder” in English, that I have used often to treat hives, especially acute ones. There are two key herbs in this formula: Shi Gao/石膏 which can address systemic inflammation; and Jing Jie/荆芥, which can inhibit immune response by reducing the number and activity of IgE (Immunoglobulin E—an antibody produced by the immune system) and histamines in the blood and mucous membrane. From my clinical experience, this formula generates a strong “antihistamine” effect without causing the side effects of some antihistamine drugs. I also often combine this formula with other herbs, or other formulas, based on co-existing findings such as digestive or menstruation problems to create a holistic and complete treatment plan. In the case study section, I will show how I combined different formulas to improve hives within a matter of days.

I would like to emphasize again the Chinese Medicine approach to not only hives but many other allergy-related conditions. We do not necessarily need to know the exact trigger to treat the disease effectively. Because we are treating the miscalibrated immune response, or histamine intolerance in the case of hives. Through herbal or acupuncture treatment, we REGULATE the immune function (instead of BLOCKING it) in response to environmental factors, either external ones such as food, poison ivy, heat, or internal ones such as infections and stress. In this sense, we are truly treating the root cause, not the superficial triggers.

Acupuncture treatment in Toronto for skin conditions

Following the same principle, acupuncture can also be used as a treatment for hives or other skin conditions, especially in acute cases. There are various points and techniques to release the “heat” and “blood stasis” in the body and reduce symptoms. I often use a prick and cupping technique for acute skin conditions, as this is one of the best modalities to release toxins in the blood. There are a number of acupuncture points such as LI 11, SP 10 to reduce “heat,” aka inflammation in the body. Acupuncturists also use other points to regulate the immune system to further consolidate the outcome.


Clinical cases of treating acute and chronic Hives with Chinese Medicine

Case #1: Poison Ivy

In 2021, a 60-year-old female came to my Toronto clinic with severe hives caused by poison ivy. This was not the first time she had experienced this, and she was previously able to treat herself with homeopathic medicine. However, this time the homeopathic remedy didn’t work. Upon assessment, I determined this was a severe “wind heat and blood toxicity” pattern. I prescribed the formula “Xiao Feng San” with additional herbs that further addressed the toxicity and heat in the blood. A week later, she came for a follow-up. She said that for the first few days of taking the herbs, the symptoms were slightly worse, after that, the condition significantly and quickly improved. By the time of the follow-up, the symptoms were almost gone. I still prescribed the same formula for another week to consolidate the result.

Case #2: Undiagnosed skin rash with constipation

A few weeks ago a mildly overweight male in his 40s came in for a severely itchy and painful skin condition that had bothered him for 5 months. He went to several specialists but no one could give him a clear diagnosis. One doctor thought it was a bacterial infection, another thought it was a fungus. He was given a few different treatments including creams and drugs. None of them worked even a little bit. He asked Dr. Google and bought a bunch of supplements that had no effect on the condition. He was desperate because this very uncomfortable condition bothered him every day. During the assessment, I determined his condition was likely Hives, which was also his suspicion, though the name didn’t matter. When I performed “Fukushin”, an abdominal assessment, there was a clear “Oketsu”(blood stagnation) sign in his left lower abdomen. I asked him about his bowel movements, and he said he had been constipated since the onset of the skin rash. Nobody else had considered asking him about his bowel movement before, as the Western method is to keep each body system separate, rather than seeing the body as an integrated whole. Based on my findings, I prescribed Xiao Feng San and Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang, the latter formula having herbs that can eliminate the blood stasis behind the “Oketsu” sign, and move the bowel as well.

In the follow-up visit the next week, the patient said the skin rash had started to disappear the very next day, and his bowel was also regular again. I checked his abdomen, the “Oketsu” sign was still there but reduced, which indicated the underlying pathogenic factor was still present and needed to be further addressed. So I continued the same formulas for two more weeks.

He was very happy about the quick and profound result after struggling for almost half a year after going through the Western medicine system with no result.

This post is about treating hives, but the principle can be expanded to treat all kinds of allergic and immune-related conditions. As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner, I’m not just limited to focusing on the skin, where symptoms appear. Rather I look at the whole body and try to find where the underlying imbalance is. The same can be said for the herbs I choose. For example, the herb Shi Gao is often used in the formulas to treat Asthma, Pneumonia, and Influenza; Jing Jie is often used in formulas that treat bloody stool, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids and fissures, and many Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. This shows why Chinese Medicine is a general medical practice, which can not be specialized to the degree that Western Medicine is.

Chinese Medicine can provide what Western Medicine has missed or is lacking especially in chronic illness. It fills the gap between the superficial level symptoms and the true underlying problems with a natural and cohesive approach that takes the whole body into consideration instead of isolated labels.

If you are struggling to find a solution with a satisfying result or worrying about the side effects, feel free to contact us or book your appointment online.

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