Understanding The Hives

The Allergy Kit

About Hives (urticaria)


We explain the hives, the most common causes, symptoms, body parts most likely affected, treatment, & tips for controlling urticaria.

The hives (urticaria) is a harmless type of rash or skin allergy that is usually caused by an allergy. The rash consists of circular, raised welts on the skin that are usually itchy and occur in batches. Hives can vary in size, from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. Urticaria usually affects the throat, arms, legs, and trunk. About 16% of the population will experience this rash at some time in their lives.

The hives can be caused by medication, foods, and insect bites. When the rash lasts less than six weeks, it’s called “acute urticaria", when lasting more than six weeks it’s referred to as “chronic urticaria.” With chronic urticaria, it is more difficult to identify the offending allergen than it is with acute cases. In about 80% of chronic cases of urticaria, the offending allergen responsible is unknown.

common triggers that cause hives

The most common skin allergy triggers that cause hives include:

• Medication such as antibiotics, codeine, penicillin, sulfa, anticonvulsant drugs, phenobarbital, and aspirin

• Foods like shellfish, nuts, tomatoes, soy, chocolate, and berries

• Pollen

• Cat dander

• Insect bites such as bee ans wasp stings

Other causes of the hives include: emotional stress, bacterial - viral - fungal infections, hepatitis B, parasitic worms, food additives, plants, cold temperatures, heat, sweating, and dermatographism (irritation from pressure or tight fitting clothes).

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symptoms of hives

Symptoms of urticaria are caused by histamine release from mast cells that exist deep within the skin. Common symptoms include:

• Sudden onset

• Red or skin colored welts that resemble mosquito bites

• Welts change quickly re: size, shape, & location

• Itching

• Welts commonly last about 24 hours

• Angioedema - swelling of lips, face, and tongue

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treatment of hives

If the substance or allergy responsible for your urticaria can not be found, the symptoms of urticaria will need to be treated. Antihistamines are the primary medications used to control the hives and stop the itching:

• Antihistamines such as Atarax, Benedryl, Seldane, and Tagamet

• Corticosteroids - used in more severe cases

• Injections of epinephrine - used in cases that involve life-threatening episodes

• Avoidance of known allergens

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tips for controlling hives

There are some general measures you can take to ease the symptoms associated with urticaria:

• Avoid heat; keep the temperature of the skin cool

• Stay away from alcohol, as it causes flushing of the skin

• Try not to scratch affected areas

• Wear loose clothes that will not put pressure on the skin

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