When thinking about my cholinergic urticaria (heat hives), I try to be as analytical as possible in trying to understand what happens in my body. I feel that the more I understand, the better chances I have of trying to control reactions, and hopefully one day be cured of this terrible condition. Again, please remember I am not a doctor when I shoot off these theories and ideas.
So recently I have been thinking about what happens when a heat hives reaction occurs. After all, what happens that first second right before the attack happens? We get hot, right? In some way, our bodies become hot from some activity (hot weather, exercise, nervousness, anxiety, etc.). Once something happens to cause our core body temperature to increase, an attack happens soon after (at least, most of the time it does).
I underline the “CORE BODY TEMPERATURE” above because I have noticed a few things about my body. For example, I have a heating pad that I bought a few months ago to help with muscle soreness, etc. For those who aren’t familiar with a heating pad, it is a flat pad that gets really hot when you plug it into the electrical outlet.
One thing I have noticed which seems interesting is that I can leave the heating pad (which is about 1 square foot in size) on my stomach, back, or arm until it gets very red (don’t try that at home, you can get serious burns with these things). However, even though my skin was obviously very hot, and even bright red from the heat, it did not itch at all, nor did it cause a CU reaction. Not only that, but sometimes I even get a small amount of sweat there, and still no reaction. I find this strange.
Most medical articles online about CCholinergic Urticaria seem to point out this strange fact, that a rise in the “core temperature” and not just a “part of the body,” seems to be what initiates the reaction. So this got me thinking about the part in our brain which controls our “core” body temperature.
Hypothalamus Controls Our Body Temperature?
As you may have guessed by the article title, it is the hypothalamus and hives. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating so many functions in our body, and tries to balance everything out. One of those “functions” it regulates is our body temperature. Not only does it control temperature, but it also is responsible for certain metabolic processes and other activities of the Autonomic Nervous System . It synthesizes and secretes neurohormones , often called hypothalamic-releasing hormones, and these in turn stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones . The hypothalamus controls body temperature , hunger, thirst, fatigue, anger, and circadian cycles.
Since this part of our brain is like our own built in “thermostat,” it is possible it has at least some involvement in cholinergic urticaria. When this part of our brain gets the “signal” that it is too hot, it sends out hormones & nerve impulses telling our bodies to “sweat” so it can maintain a stable temperature.
Is it Possible Our Brains and Hypothalamus Can Be Playing a Role in Cholinergic Urticaria?
This is where it gets interesting. I stumbled on an article excerpt online that discussed a rare occurrence of a 10 year old boy who had both cholinergic urticaria & epilepsy (seizures). Since seizures are known to be caused by brain malfunctions, they decided to hook the boy up to a machine called an electroencephalograph that measures brain functions. They found something quite interesting. This is what it said, “electroencephalography revealed high voltage polyspikes and 14 Hz positive spikes.”
So they noticed that during a reaction, his brain was sending a very high Hz positive spike. They then concluded the following:
“sweat-promoting stimuli, such as heat, exercise and tension, stimulate the autonomic center in the diencephalon or brain stem, and excitation in the autonomic center is transmitted to the efferent sympathetic nerve, causing cholinergic urticaria; when the intensity of stimulation is high, the autonomic center exhibits abnormal activities and causes epileptic seizure.”
So basically it seems that this boy was getting abnormally high excitation in the autonomic center of his nervous system. This could be what caused the CU. He also experienced seizures as well, due to this stimulation (which is rare, because so far I have not heard of any other CU people having seizures).
Not only that, but I found a post on a forum where a person seemed as if he had a test run of his brain, and he too had a high result, and didn’t mention anything about seizures. The member’s user name was “aivory ” and the post is the second one down on the page.
Perhaps the seizures are not related to the Cu, and the CU just also causes the seizures to occur? In any event, I found it very interesting that the brain seems to be over-stimulated, and is causing this over-stimulation to be transmitted all the way through the nervous system.
Could This Have a Major Role In Cholinergic Urticaria?
So what if the hypothalamus is being involved here in a big way. Perhaps it is attempting to calm down the rising temperature, but for some reason, is sending a VERY AGGRESSIVE signal, which causes over-excitation of the body. This signal travels down our nervous system, and then has a STRONGER-THAN-NORMAL release of the neurotransmitter that stimulates our sweat glands.
This excessive signal, in turn, causes our mast cells to freak out and release histamine. The histamine causes us to itch like crazy, as it feels like we are literally being stabbed thousands of times with a needle as this signal is stimulating the ends of our sweat pores all over our upper torso and bodies.
If this is true, we have to ask the question, “Why is our hypothalamus doing this?” Here is where something also gets a bit interesting.
Hypothalamus, Glands, Hormones, & Sunlight Exposure
I did some quick “googling” to see if the Hypothalamus is affected by sunlight exposure. Sure enough, it is. According to an article on sunlight starvation, the hypothalamus is directly affected by the sun, and not only that, but since the hypothalamus controls and regulates so many other hormones, glands, and processes, it could be said that all of these are affected by sunlight exposure as well.
This is extremely fascinating, since almost all of us on the forum admit to very little if any sun exposure. Not only that, as I have mentioned before in several posts, the times in which I was exposed to sunlight consistently, I had NO HIVES. When I was basically an indoor hermit crab, I HAD HIVES (just like now).
I am starting to view the sun as a very powerful source that is perhaps just as important as exercise and nutrition for our overall health. Just like plants require sunlight to function properly, so do we. Even Superman (from the comics) gets his strength from the sun.
Getting the right amount of sun is risky because at the same time we don’t want skin cancer, sun burns, or premature aging. But I think the benefits of very light-to-moderate sun exposure on a consistent basis could be huge.
So far, we can say just based on the posts and input on this site alone, the majority of us seem to have these things in common:
- Very little or no consistent sunlight exposure. Some do get exposure during summer months, and even get complete remission of hives during summer months when they are out consistently.
- Many also seem to have Keratosis Pilaris (very small “bumps” that are harmless/painless on the back of the arms/back/upper legs). This too seems to be affected by sunlight, and sun can help this condition. At this point I am not sure if the Keratosis Pilaris causes CU, or if it is just merely associated with CU.
So just based on those two things above, I would say the sun may be the key, or at least a very important component. Whether we have some hormonal imbalance, hypothalamus issues, excessive skin protein production, or all of the above, sun seems to be the 1 constant that has an impact on all of these things.
Don’t get me wrong, perhaps the lack of sunlight exposure isn’t related at all. Perhaps there are multiple complex things going on here. But at this point I am being “sold” on sunlight as a potentially huge thing to help manage, or potentially even prevent CU attacks.
Needless to say, I really hope summer gets here soon so I can find out for myself whether all of this is true or not!
UPDATE: 1/21/13 This is an old archived post, and I have made more recent posts regarding my new diet and how I was able to finally get my hives under control. Read more about it on my cholinergic urticaria diet page. What I essentially did was keep a journal and do several allergy elimination diets.