Hives, also called urticaria, are rounded or oval pink swellings (bumps) on the skin that itch. It is often difficult to self identify the cause of hives. They can change in size rapidly and move around the body in a short period of time. Hives happen when cells in the skin release histamine, a chemical that causes tiny blood vessels to leak fluid. When this leaking fluid accumulates in the skin, it forms the small swellings that we recognize as hives. Ordinary hives can suddenly flare up, while some are produced by direct physical stimulation like temperature or sunlight. Hives are generally not associated with any long-term or serious complications, but treatment options are available.
Hives & Your Skin
Hives can be triggered by heat, cold, exercise, sunlight, stress, sustained pressure on a skin area such as pressure from a belt or shoulder strap, a sudden increase in body temperature caused by a fever or a hot bath or shower, or an irritating chemical, cosmetic or soap applied to the skin. Hives also can be one symptom of a whole-body allergic reaction to something that was inhaled, ingested or injected. Hives are a common condition that is not contagious. Hives may cause stress, but hives can not be stress induced. Hives are categorized into two categories based on the length of time they are present.
Acute Urticaria (Ordinary Hives)
Acute urticaria, also known as ordinary hives last anywhere between a few hours and a few weeks. These kind of hives are the most common form and normally resolve themselves without treatment. Ordinary hives can flare up suddenly and even for no specific reason. Most ordinary hives last less than six weeks. These may be triggered by viral infections, medications, or an allergic reaction.
Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (Hives)
Chronic hives can last for months to years. The evaluation is a difficult process and may need allergy or lab tests to find the cause or causes of the hives. Limiting specific foods, drugs, or personal habits may help to pinpoint the cause of chronic hives. Each case is different and will need individual evaluation specific to each case. Once the cause of the hives is identified, Dr. Mary Noël George, our Board Certified Dermatologist will help you develop a strategy to treat and prevent further hive flareups. There are medications that can help to relieve some of the symptoms associated with chronic hives such as anti-itching, or anti-inflammatory drugs. There are also drugs that help to suppress the immune system and reduce pain and swelling. If it is hereditary angioedema there may be blood protein controllers to regulate the symptoms of chronic hives.
*If you are suffering from a severe attack/flare up of hives, visit an emergency room as you may need an injection of epinephrine.*
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