Hives are red, itchy bumps or welts that can be incredibly uncomfortable and cause you to feel self-conscious about your skin.
In most cases, hives resolve on their own within hours. Chronic cases can last weeks and recur over a period of years.
So how do I know if I have hives?
Raised, Itching Welts Usually Indicate Hives
Hives are typically characterized by red, raised patches on the skin. These swollen areas of skin can vary in size and shape.
Hives are typically very itchy and uncomfortable. A sensation of burning or stinging can also accompany itching.
In some cases, hives may be accompanied by deeper swelling in the hands, feet, or face. This type of swelling, known as angioedema, occurs beneath the surface of the skin and, in severe cases, can block airways.
Allergies and Certain Health Conditions Make You More Prone to Hives
If you have allergies, you are more likely to develop hives. In addition, infections and certain health conditions, such as eczema, lupus, and thyroid disease, can make you more vulnerable to hives. Other factors which can increase your risk for this issue include:
- Use of medications such as NSAIDs, penicillin, and certain blood pressure medications
- Physical or emotional stress
- A family history of hives or angioedema
So what actually causes hives?
Your Immune System Overreacting to Irritants Can Cause Hives
Food, medications, insect bites, and a variety of other factors can trigger an allergic response by the immune system. Contact with something you are allergic to, such as latex or animals, can also cause hives.
Infection or Illness
For some individuals, hives are caused by infections, such as colds, or illnesses, such as thyroid disease.
Exposure to certain elements in your environment, such as sun or chemicals, can trigger hives. Stress, exercise, and excessive scratching can also lead to hives.
"The extreme itchiness can drive people crazy… [but] excellent disease control can be achieved with appropriate use of antihistamines until the disease spontaneously resolves over time." Supriya Varadarajulu, MD
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Your Risk for Hives
Avoid Known Triggers
If you know you are allergic to a certain substance, minimizing your exposure can reduce the likelihood of recurring hives. For those who tend to develop hives due to stress, relaxation techniques can help limit outbreaks.
Use Allergy Medication
Antihistamines and allergy shots can help your body deal with allergic reactions and avoid hives.
Change Your Surroundings
After a hives outbreak, avoid high-humidity areas and wear loose-fitting clothing to give your body time to heal. These measures can reduce the risk of recurrence.
Your Doctor Can Identify Signs of a Hives Breakout
Typically, the welts associated with hives are easily identified by a trained dermatologist. Your doctor will ask you questions to try and determine the underlying cause of your skin condition.
Your dermatologist may also perform blood tests and skin tests, especially if your hives were the result of an allergic reaction. These tests can help determine the best treatment option for your case.
Treatment Focuses on Relieving Symptoms Until the Condition Resolves
Removing the Trigger
If your dermatologist can identify the underlying cause of your hives, removing the trigger can stop the allergic reaction and allow your body time to heal. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find the cause.
Changing your daily routine and taking good care of yourself are steps to take while you wait for your hives to heal. Avoid hot water, use mild soap, and try to keep cool until the reaction goes away.
Depending on the severity of your hives, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine or prescribe a stronger medication. Antihistamines can reduce your symptoms while the hives heal.
There is a range of other medications your doctor may prescribe to reduce your symptoms, including corticosteroids and anti-inflammatories. For severe cases, you may need a shot of epinephrine, or adrenaline, to relieve swelling.
Contact a Dermatologist Today
The severity of hives can vary greatly. Some patients experience only mild temporary discomfort, while others develop serious swelling that can impact breathing. If you notice itchy, red welts on your skin, contact a dermatologist and schedule an exam. A doctor can assess your symptoms and determine the right course of treatment for you.