Mar 02, 2013
At 32, I had my first outbreak with hives after a perfect storm gathered within my body. I had swollen tonsils, but otherwise felt pretty healthy. Seasonal pollens had just started in my area (regular allergies), plus I was in a house with lots of cat dander that day (moderate cat allergy). It was also an emotional day: a fight with a loved one, the death of another. I think that for all these triggers, my hives began this day, of all days. That evening, I had what looked like mosquito bites on my bottom and thighs. The hives mostly disappeared by the next day, but returned with a vengeance that night, and I was prescribed the steroid pregnisone to help with the inflammation (50 mg), and benadryl. The following day, the hives spread to angry welts over my limbs and lower trunk, and I couldn't sleep or find any relief from the burning and pain (7 out of 10 scale, 10 being natural childbirth). I went to the ER, where they gave me epinephrin and a breathing treatment (was wheezing), and tested me for mono, and strep throat. I also began taking the antibiotic keflex in advance of the strep reading, because my hives were so severe. Doctors also wondered if there was something else going on besides hives; I began to consider I was dying. The hives subsided for a few hours, but again, became so debilitating that I returned to the ER, concerned with additional symptoms of nausea and a strong headache. None of the medicines helped, aside from benadryl, which helped me fall asleep. I couldn't function at all -- my husband had to stay home from work to take care of our children, and my mother would take me to the doctors.
On day 3, I learned that I had strep, and felt some hope at first that I might heal. A dermatologist performed a biopsy of my rash, and confirmed by day 6 that it was indeed hives. The hives continued to mutate in appearance, looking like serious burns, to grey/purple, mottled bruises, to infected insect bites -- my hope of healing danced around responsively. It also moved everywhere: my scalp, my face, my chest, my armpits and ears. I was nursing a 3 month old, and was terrified my milk might be bad for her with all the drugs I was taking (all considered 'safe', but still...). I was given an 80 mg shot of pregnisone on day 4, along with the 40 mg of pregnisone orally, and there was no dent in the progression of these hives. I was also taking pepsid (type 2 antihistamine), benadryl, claritin, and keflex. On day 5, I asked two different doctors permission to step entirely off the drugs except the benadryl and keflex, and they felt it would be fine since I hadn't been on pregnisone long. Unfortunately, they were mistaken, and I suffered severe, lying on the floor abdominal pain and nausea for a few hours until I started taking 30 mg of pregnisone again, as well as pepsid, which I learned I now needed to protect my stomach from the pregnisone.
Beginning on day 5, I began to see improvement with sleep, where the hives would abate and shrink/lighten. But movement/activity would flare up the welts and discomfort, and before long I would look and feel horrible again. Days 7 and 8, the hives near completely disappeared by the morning, aside from some purplish scarring on my abdomen and legs where I had the worst welts-- but movement again would spread the hives all over my body and face. Today, day 9, I feel the most myself, and the hives are light and completely manageable, just a little itchy. The purplish scarred patches remain, but will probably fade with time. I'm fairly certain that this awful experience is coming to an end. It has been a dramatic, fast recovery, just as dramatic and fast as this completely debilitating nightmare began. In addition to the exhaustion and physical pain, these hives have been just as traumatic psychologically -- with their constant mutation and movement, and medicines/doctors/online research didn't help at all with my specific case. Now, in retrospect, I believe strep was the culprit, and it had been brewing untreated in my system for a while: I had swollen tonsils for over a month prior, and periodic sore throats. Several months before, when my strep symptoms began, I went to the doctor, but the test returned negative. I now know that 10% of strep results are false negatives, and in the future, I will get a second test if my tonsils remain inflamed.
There's so little published about strep and hives, and I hope that my story may offer comfort to someone who goes through this. I also truly doubt that the steroid and antihistamine drugs, aside from the antibiotics, offered any help whatsoever to my condition -- although the epinephrin shot in the ER and breathing treatment did help my system endure the strongest phase of its reaction. I think that the hives, once started, had to just run their course, spread and conquer my body, and then begin to vanish -- as insensible as that may seem.