Hives, also known as urticaria, is a condition characterized by itchy, red welts on the skin. The welts can range in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres and can appear anywhere on the body. They may be round or oval and can be clustered together or spread out. Hives typically last for a few hours to a few days, but they may recur over time. Hives can be triggered by a variety of things, including allergies, stress, and certain medications. Treatment for hives typically involves avoiding the trigger and using antihistamines to relieve the itching.
Causes of hives
Allergies are the most common cause of hives. When your body comes into contact with an allergen, it releases histamine, a chemical that causes the small blood vessels in your skin to leak. This can lead to the formation of welts on the surface of the skin.
Other common triggers for hives include:
- Insect bites or stings
- Certain foods, such as nuts, eggs, or shellfish
- Medications, such as penicillin or aspirin
- Heat or cold
- Viruses or infections
- Exposure to extreme temperatures
- Medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, infection, allergy, and cancer.
Symptoms of hives
The main symptom of hives is the appearance of raised, red welts on the skin. These welts can vary in size and appear anywhere on the body. They may also change shape and location on the body. Hives can occur singly or in large groups, and they may join together to form larger areas of swelling (plaques).
Other symptoms of hives include:
- Burning or stinging sensation on the skin
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat (angioedema)
Treatment for hives
There are a variety of treatments available for hives. The most important thing is to avoid triggers that can cause an outbreak. If you have a known trigger, such as a specific food or medication, it is important to avoid it.
If you are unsure of the trigger, there are several medications that can help. Treatment for hives usually involves taking antihistamines. Antihistamines can be taken orally or topically. Topical antihistamines are usually in the form of creams or ointments and are applied directly to the affected area. Oral antihistamines are taken by mouth in pill or liquid form.
In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. This is usually only done if the person is having difficulty breathing or the hives are widespread. In these cases, intravenous medications may be necessary.
Complications of Hives
Hives can lead to a number of different complications, including:
- Anaphylaxis: This is a potentially life-threatening reaction that can occur in response to hives. Anaphylaxis occurs when the body goes into shock and blood pressure drops dramatically. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, dizziness, and fainting.
- Angioedema: This is a condition characterized by swelling of the deep layers of skin. Angioedema can be painful and may interfere with breathing if the swelling occurs in the throat or tongue.
- Urticaria Pigmentosa: This is a type of chronic hives that is characterized by a darkening of the skin after the hive disappears. This can be a cosmetic concern for some people.
- Skin Infections: Hives can sometimes lead to skin infections, especially if they are scratched or broken open.
- Emotional Distress: Living with chronic hives can be emotionally distressing. Some people may experience anxiety or depression as a result of the condition.
Prevention of hives
There are a few things you can do to prevent hives:
- Avoid triggers. If you know what substances or activities trigger your hives, try to avoid them.
- Watch for early signs. Pay attention to your body and be aware of any changes that might signal the onset of hives.
- Take antihistamines. If you're prone to hives, your doctor may recommend that you take an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine.
- Apply cold compresses. If you feel the beginnings of itchiness or discomfort, applying a cold compress to the affected area may help relieve symptoms.
- Avoid scratching. It can be tempting to scratch or pick at hives, but doing so can irritate the skin and make symptoms worse.
Hives are a common condition that can be annoying and uncomfortable but usually are not serious. However, in some cases, hives can lead to more serious complications. If you have hives, it is important to avoid triggers and seek treatment if necessary. Taking preventive measures can also help reduce your risk of developing hives.