Hives, also called urticarial, are welts on the skin. They can range in size from a small dot to large welts that cover a lot of skin area, often connecting to form larger hives. An individual hive often goes away within 24 hours. Most instances of acute hives last less than six weeks, although some people are affected by chronic hives.
WHO GETS HIVES?
Anyone can get hives, but they often result from an allergic reaction. People with allergies to pollen, mold, foods, insects, fragrances or dyes, medicine and other substances are more prone to developing hives. About 20 percent of the population is affected by hives at some point in their lifetime.
Infections, including colds, can also cause hives; hives can also be associated with certain illnesses such as lupus and thyroid disease. Other triggers for hives can include heat, cold, sun exposure, exercise, stress, alcohol, chemicals, excessive scratching or pressure on the skin.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HIVES?
Hives generally present as pink or red patches on the skin, usually raised slightly above the normal skin surface. Hives are accompanied by intense itching and often the feeling of heat.
Sometimes swelling of the area occurs. Hives can accompany angioedema where the eyelids and mouth can swell; if this happens or if you have trouble breathing or swallowing, medical treatment should be sought immediately.
HOW CAN HIVES BE TREATED?
A doctor or dermatologist will often perform allergy or blood tests to rule out illness or infection and may take a skin biopsy. The most common treatment for hives is the use of an antihistamine, either over-the-counter or by prescription.
Other medical treatments include inflammation-fighting medications and cortisones, although these are recommended for short-term use only. In some extreme cases of angioedema, epinephrine injections may be recommended.
Mild and moderate cases of hives can also be treated at home by applying cool, wet cloths to the welts. For people with a known allergy or trigger for hives, avoiding exposure to these elements is also important.