Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) include techniques outside of conventional medicine. CAM techniques aim to have healing effects, but there is limited evidence of their benefits.1

Nearly 40 percent of adults in the United States use a type of CAM. Complementary usually refers to therapies used alongside standard medicine. Alternative approaches are therapies that are used instead of traditional medicine.1

Doctors will usually not suggest CAM to treat chronic hives. However, they may be useful to relieve stress and improve sleep.

You should always talk to your doctor before trying any CAM to make sure it is safe for you. You do not want to try something that aggravates your symptoms or interferes with any drugs you are taking.

Natural skin remedies

Natural remedies use plants to treat your symptoms. Certain natural skin creams may cool your skin or relieve itchiness. However, they will not work long-term to treat chronic hives. Some natural remedies that may be helpful include:2,3

  • Aloe vera gels or creams
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths or lotions
  • Witch hazel

It is important for people with chronic hives to avoid natural skin remedies that contain ingredients that dry or irritate the skin.

Acupuncture

There is some evidence that acupuncture can reduce the frequency and severity of hives. During acupuncture, tiny needles are inserted through your skin at strategic points. It is a key part of traditional Chinese medicine and often used to treat pain.4

Experts have found specific acupuncture methods that may be useful in chronic hives. However, we do not know how acupuncture may work to treat chronic hives. More evidence with larger studies are needed to better understand the risks and benefits.5

Chinese herbal medicine

Herbs are an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. Certain herbal formulas may have anti-inflammatory effects. Research shows these herbs may be useful for chronic hives when added to standard therapy.6,7

If you want to use traditional Chinese medicine, talk to your doctor. Many herbal medicines can interfere with your prescription medicines. Your doctor can also help you find a certified specialist. A government commission called the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) certifies schools that teach traditional Chinese medicine.6

Stress management

Stress can make the symptoms of chronic hives worse since stress can be a trigger. It can also affect your ability to manage your own healthcare. And, stress can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. That is why it is so important to find the combination of stress management techniques that work for you.8

Examples of CAM techniques that can help manage stress include:9,10

  • Aromatherapy – Using essential oils and aromatic plants to promote well-being
  • Biofeedback – Using electric sensors to learn to control some body functions
  • Deep breathing – Focusing on rhythmic breathing routines
  • Hydrotherapy – Techniques that use water, such as hot tub therapy, steam from a vaporizer, applying water compresses
  • Humor therapy – Using humor to improve mood
  • Imagery – Using memories, dreams, and visions to control responses to stressful situations
  • Massage – Using touch to reduce stress by promoting circulation
  • Meditation – Developing intentional focus to control your thoughts
  • Mindfulness – Focusing on your current feelings and sensations
  • Music therapy – Using relaxation with soothing music to change behavior and emotions
  • Relaxation – Techniques that relax the body and mind, such as progressive muscle relaxation
  • Talk therapy – Techniques that improve coping skills by talking with a therapist, such as cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Yoga – Using movement, breathing, and balance to relax

Many other stress-reducing techniques are available. Talk to your doctor about what methods are safe for you to try. Some techniques may worsen symptoms instead of improving them. For example, yoga may trigger symptoms for people with exercise-induced hives.

Tips for sleeping better

Good sleep is a vital part of maintaining health but Itchiness and other symptoms often make restful sleep hard. Poor sleep also impacts your mood and overall quality of life. If chronic hives affect your sleep, your doctor may be able to change your medicines to help you sleep better.11

There are many other ways to improve your sleep, such as:12

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule
  • Only go to bed once you are sleepy
  • If you cannot fall asleep, do a quiet activity without much light
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex
  • Turn off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine before bed
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime

Some people try melatonin, which is a natural hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It is available over-the-counter. Taking melatonin improves sleep for some people. However, it can cause problems for people with certain other chronic conditions.13

Before using any CAM methods, talk to your doctor about what is right for you.

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Matt Zajac | Last reviewed: April 2022