Can poor air quality cause Hives?

The below article talks about poor air quality and how it can affect your skin and cause hives. It also talks about some common triggers of hives, next steps, along with some frequently asked questions. 

Can bad air quality give you hives?

Yes, poor air quality can cause hives. Hives are usually triggered by allergic reactions, exposure to certain chemical particles or pollutants, insect bites, sunlight, medications, etc. Protecting yourself from poor air quality is key to avoiding hives that originate due to exposure to airborne contaminants or toxic particulate matter. This could be through using safety measures like a mask, installing air purifiers, avoiding exposure to chemical fumes, vehicular emissions, burning of fuel sources, etc. 

Hives (a.k.a. Urticaria) 

Hives are also known as Urticaria. It is a sudden outbreak or a flare-up of pale red bumps or welts on the skin. Swelling that accompanies hives is called angioedema. These welts and bumps can vary in size, texture, and color; and manifests as an allergic reaction. 

The allergic reaction could be due to anything you were exposed to or due to anything you may have consumed. It could be a particular food item, an insect bite, certain medicines, chemical fumes or specific chemical particulates, toxic smoke, etc. It is usually hard to pinpoint the specific reason that causes hives since there are multiple factors that can give varying degrees of impact on different people or the same person, for the same irritant or allergen. 

What happens exactly?

When your body undergoes an allergic reaction, it produces a chemical called Histamine. Histamines traditionally help the body to fight off infections and other intruding pollutants that can cause any sickness. However, in some people, histamines can cause redness, itching, swelling, and many other symptoms that are associated with hives. 

It must be noticed that hives can also be caused by circumstantial situations such as being under immense stress, during an anxiety attack, tight or irritating clothes or fabrics, during vigorous exercise, illnesses, infections, excessive sweating, extreme temperatures, side-effects to certain medications, etc. Thus, why medical professionals often cannot pinpoint an exact trigger for hives.  

Types of Hives 

  • Acute urticaria/ hives last for < 6 weeks and can be commonly attributed to certain food or food additives, preservatives, medications, after-effects of an infection, insect bites, particular diseases, etc. 
  • Chronic urticaria/ hives last for > 6 weeks and the causes are harder to identify. It could be due to thyroid disease, internal or external infections, cancer, hepatitis, etc. Chronic hives can also affect your internal organs such as the lungs, muscles, and GI tract. Other common side-effects include shortness of breath, sore muscles, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 
  • Physical urticaria/ hives are caused due to the physical stimulation on the skin such as extreme temperatures, irritating fabrics or clothes, sweating, sun exposure, vigorous exercise, etc. These usually appear right where the skin was irritated and within the hour.
  • Dermatographism is a form of physical urticaria/ hives and is formed after an individual vigorously strokes, scratches, or itches their skin. Dermatographism can also occur alongside the other kinds of hives, and each outbreak could be triggered by completely different elements. 

Hives and air quality 

Hives are quite a common occurrence. However, people don’t often realize that it could be triggered due to exposure to poor air quality and other environmental triggers. Especially since the trigger for hives is often hard to pinpoint. It is quite easy for air to be polluted since there are multiple sources that can attribute to poor air quality. 

Since air is made of multiple components and has varying influential factors to ensure a healthy atmosphere, such as the amount of carbon dioxide, oxygen, bacteria, mold spores, etc., air quality and maintaining it, is important to ensure good health. This applies to indoor and outdoor air quality, as it has been found that indoor air quality can be up to 5x worse than outdoor air quality (Awair, 2017). 

Air pollution and air quality, both indoors and outdoors play a major role in our physical well-being. It is possible for toxic airborne pollutants such as particulate matters of different sizes like PM2.5, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Ozone (O3), and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to irritate your skin and trigger hives. 

A study conducted in Canada found a strong relationship between the increased number of visits to emergency rooms and short-term spikes in air quality (Kousha T. & Valacchi G.,2015). Another study found that there is a strong correlation between the triggering of hives in children and living in new residences (Lee S. J., 2017). 

Common sources of hives due to poor air quality 

  • Dust is one of the most common triggers for allergic reactions. Dust is inevitable and contains a variety of components from dust mites, mold, dead skin cells to pet dander and pieces of dead insects. Dust isn’t always easy to identify or clean, but it can have a harsh effect on your allergies regardless. 
  • Chemicals and other chemical pollutants have enveloped our day-to-day operations from our cleaning agents to the air fresheners we use every day. This also includes exposure to chemical fumes, vehicular emissions, burning wastes and the fumes it causes, etc. These chemicals have VOCs that can be found in every nook and corner, and has long-lasting impacts on human health.
  • Allergens such as airborne bacteria, viruses, mold spores, pet dander, etc. can trigger hives and cause immense discomfort. Allergens attack the skin barrier and trigger hive breakouts in varying degrees, depending on exposure factors. 

Improving indoor air quality

The easiest method and most common method employed is to purchase an air purifier. An air purifier would circulate the air through various filters to strip out contaminants or other toxic particles, to give out clean air. It is important to note that the most effective air purifier to improve air quality would include a True HEPA Filter, an activated carbon filter, and UV; a combination of these elements would lead to the removal of ~99.97% of toxic particles and contaminants (Dyson K., 2021) 

Product nameWhy we recommend it
SilverOnyx Air PurifierBest for large rooms and basements5 stage air cleaningA filter cartridge with a mesh pre-filter to trap the larger particlesTrue HEPA H13 Filter that captures 99.97% of contaminants UV light to kill mold, virus, and bacteriaActivated carbon filterAn ionizer that strips out toxic airborne particles and helps extend the life of other filters while freshening the airCylindrical shape of the device provides 60% more efficiency than other devicesGives an alert when the filter needs to be changedFilters can be cleaned or replacedA timer that can be set for up to 24 hoursCovers up to 500 sq. feet 
Molekule Air PurifierDifferent sizes and types are available to cover rooms from 250 sq. feet to 1000 sq. feetWi-Fi enabled 2-year limited warrantyExtremely powerful in terms of destroying basement pollutants at a molecular levelEliminates all traces of pollutants with up to 99.99% efficiency360° Air intake Air flows through the outer filters to trap larger particlesInner filters destroys the smaller particles at its core using PECO technology; which is capable of removing contaminants 1000x smaller than what could be removed using a standard HEPA filterNanocatalyst coated filters will react to light to destroy the contaminants, to produce purified, clean, and fresh air No ozone byproducts Captures contaminants, oxidizes them and breaks them down to destroy them Molekule Air Mini has found to remove 99.99% of COVID-19 virus in the air, within one hourMolekule Air Pro removes the same and other proxy viruses which could travel via water droplets within 30 minutes
MINUSA2 Ultraquiet Air Purifier from RabbitAir 6 Stage FilterationPre-stage filter to trap dust mites, larger contaminants, pollen, pet hair, etc. Medium filter to trap bacteria, dander, dust particles, mold, fungi, pollen, etc.BIOGS HEPA filter is more efficient than the traditional HEPA filter as it reduces the probability of mold or virus growing on the filter and prolongs the filter’s efficiency; BIOGS HEPA filter is more efficient in reducing fumes and particles that carry disease-causing viruses Ability to customize filters to meet specific needs including germ defense, pet allergens, odor remover, toxin stripping, etc. Activated Carbon Filter made of granular activated carbonNegative ions that latch onto smaller air-borne contaminants, so that they would be weighed down and trapped into the filters5-year warrantyCovers up to 815 sq. feetWi-Fi enabledSpecialized app services Wall- mountable Multiple customizable options

Protecting yourself from poor outdoor air quality 

  • Whenever possible try to stay indoors, especially if outdoor air quality is poor. Poor air quality is usually at its peak in the morning, therefore, it is best to stay indoors during the peak rush hours to reduce exposure to airborne contaminants. 
  • Wear protective eyeglasses, masks, or sunglasses when you go out. This will keep the dust and contaminants at bay and reduce exposure to pollutants.
  • Wash your hands frequently to ensure that there is a minimum transfer of pollutant particles and reduce the risk of hives. 
  • Avoid rubbing or scratching your hives vigorously, as this could increase inflammation as well as cause tears on your skin surface.
  • If you do experience persisting symptoms, it is best to consult a medical professional.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to manage or treat hives at home?

  • Apply a cool compress or a damp cloth to the affected area to reduce the swelling, inflammation, or irritation.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • If you know the trigger, stay away from the allergen or pollutant that triggered the hives. 
  • Have an anti-histamine tablet, as prescribed by a medical professional. 
  • Work and sleep in a cool room to avoid any environmental triggers that may exacerbate the allergies. 
  • Take a cool or lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal or baking soda (HealthLine, 2017). 
  • Avoid itching, scratching, rubbing, or irritating the inflamed areas. 

Can hives be prevented?

Yes, they can be prevented by making small lifestyle changes and taking preventative measures such as wearing a mask, installing an air-purifier, avoiding usage of chemical irritants, avoiding exposure to chemical fumes and pollutants, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes, avoiding sudden changes in surrounding temperatures, etc. Allergy shots are another option to reduce the impacts of these allergens or pollutants on your everyday life. 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Does wearing a mask help during poor air quality?

How accurate is BreezoMeter?

150 AQI: Good or Bad?


Awair. (2017, July 25). Could this be the cause for your hives? Viewed on 11-26-2021. 

Dyson K. (2021, February 26). How to improve basement air quality. Air Quality & Comfort. Viewed on 11-26-2021. 

Kousha T. & Valacchi G. (2015). The air quality health index and emergency department visits for urticaria in Windsor, Canada. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part A. 78(8). pp. 524 – 533. Viewed on 11-26-2021.  

Lee S. J., Ha E. K., Jee H. M., Lee K. S., Lee S. W., Kim M. A., Kim D. H., Jung Y. H., Sheen Y. H., Sung M. S., & Han M. Y. (2017, January 3). Prevalence and risk factors of urticaria with a focus on chronic urticaria in Children. Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Research. 9(3). pp. 212 – 219. Viewed on 11-26-2021. 

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