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Hives

Hives are red, itchy bumps or welts that can be incredibly uncomfortable and cause you to feel self-conscious about your skin.

In most cases, hives resolve on their own within hours. Chronic cases can last weeks and recur over a period of years.

So how do I know if I have hives?

Raised, Itching Welts Usually Indicate Hives

Bumps

Hives are typically characterized by red, raised patches on the skin. These swollen areas of skin can vary in size and shape.

Discomfort

Hives are typically very itchy and uncomfortable. A sensation of burning or stinging can also accompany itching.

Swelling

In some cases, hives may be accompanied by deeper swelling in the hands, feet, or face. This type of swelling, known as angioedema, occurs beneath the surface of the skin and, in severe cases, can block airways.

Am I at risk?

Allergies and Certain Health Conditions Make You More Prone to Hives

If you have allergies, you are more likely to develop hives. In addition, infections and certain health conditions, such as eczema, lupus, and thyroid disease, can make you more vulnerable to hives. Other factors which can increase your risk for this issue include:

  • Use of medications such as NSAIDs, penicillin, and certain blood pressure medications
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • A family history of hives or angioedema

So what actually causes hives?

Your Immune System Overreacting to Irritants Can Cause Hives

Allergies

Food, medications, insect bites, and a variety of other factors can trigger an allergic response by the immune system. Contact with something you are allergic to, such as latex or animals, can also cause hives.

Infection or Illness

For some individuals, hives are caused by infections, such as colds, or illnesses, such as thyroid disease.

Environmental Factors

Exposure to certain elements in your environment, such as sun or chemicals, can trigger hives. Stress, exercise, and excessive scratching can also lead to hives.

Is there any way I can avoid hives?

"The extreme itchiness can drive people crazy... [but] excellent disease control can be achieved with appropriate use of antihistamines until the disease spontaneously resolves over time."

Supriya Varadarajulu, MD

Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Your Risk for Hives

Avoid Known Triggers

If you know you are allergic to a certain substance, minimizing your exposure can reduce the likelihood of recurring hives. For those who tend to develop hives due to stress, relaxation techniques can help limit outbreaks.

Use Allergy Medication

Antihistamines and allergy shots can help your body deal with allergic reactions and avoid hives.

Change Your Surroundings

After a hives outbreak, avoid high-humidity areas and wear loose-fitting clothing to give your body time to heal. These measures can reduce the risk of recurrence.

How do I find out if I have hives?

Your Doctor Can Identify Signs of a Hives Breakout

Typically, the welts associated with hives are easily identified by a trained dermatologist. Your doctor will ask you questions to try and determine the underlying cause of your skin condition.

woman undergoing skin exam

Your dermatologist may also perform blood tests and skin tests, especially if your hives were the result of an allergic reaction. These tests can help determine the best treatment option for your case.

Is there anything I can do for my hives?

Treatment Focuses on Relieving Symptoms Until the Condition Resolves

Removing the Trigger

If your dermatologist can identify the underlying cause of your hives, removing the trigger can stop the allergic reaction and allow your body time to heal. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find the cause.

At-Home Care

Changing your daily routine and taking good care of yourself are steps to take while you wait for your hives to heal. Avoid hot water, use mild soap, and try to keep cool until the reaction goes away.

Antihistamines

Depending on the severity of your hives, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine or prescribe a stronger medication. Antihistamines can reduce your symptoms while the hives heal.

Other Medications

There is a range of other medications your doctor may prescribe to reduce your symptoms, including corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories. For severe cases, you may need a shot of epinephrine, or adrenaline, to relieve swelling.

How serious are hives?

Contact a Dermatologist Today

The severity of hives can vary greatly. Some patients experience only mild temporary discomfort, while others develop serious swelling that can impact breathing. If you notice itchy, red welts on your skin, contact a dermatologist and schedule an exam. A doctor can assess your symptoms and determine the right course of treatment for you.

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