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Hives / Urticaria

What is hives / urticaria?

Hives, also known as urticaria, usually starts as an itchy patch of skin that turns into swollen red welts. It can be set off by many substances or situations. The itching may be mild to severe. Scratching, alcoholic beverages, exercise and emotional stress may worsen the itching. It affects about 20 percent of people at some time during their lives.

There are two types of hives – short-lived (acute) and long-term (chronic). Neither is typically life-threatening, though any swelling in the throat or any other symptom that restricts breathing requires immediate emergency care.

What are the symptoms of hives?

Symptoms can last anywhere from minutes to months – or even years. While they resemble bug bites, hives are different in several ways. Hives can appear on any area of the body; they may change shape, move around, disappear and reappear over short periods of time. The bumps – red or skin-colored “wheals” with clear edges – usually appear suddenly and go away just as quickly. Pressing the center of a red hive makes it turn white – a process called “blanching.”

What are the causes of hives?

  • Some common hives triggers are:
  • Some food (especially peanuts, eggs, nuts and shellfish)
  • Medications, such as antibiotics (especially penicillin and sulfa), aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Physical stimuli, such as pressure, cold, heat, exercise or sun exposure
  • Latex
  • Blood transfusions
  • Bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections and strep throat
  • Viral infections, including the common cold, infectious mononucleosis and hepatitis
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Some plants, such as poison oak and poison ivy

What are the treatments for hives?

Seeing an allergist will help you or your child steer clear of known triggers. The allergist also may recommend medications to prevent the hives or reduce the severity of symptoms. Whether the treatment is available only by prescription or over the counter will depend on several factors, including how uncomfortable the hives are making you.