Hives are a skin reaction that presents as small, red bumps either in one area or spread all over the body. Also known as urticaria, skin hives and welts, they are typically outlined in red with a pale, raised center and they may appear in different shapes and sizes, from pinpricks to large clusters. Similar in look to mosquito bites, they are a common allergic reaction.
Hives can last from a few hours to several days to possibly longer, depending on the cause of the reaction. Baby hives aren’t contagious, but they may spread on the child’s skin. Hives occur when a chemical called histamine is released into the body. Histamine works to counteract allergens, viruses and even insect bites, making the culprit sometimes difficult to find.
If your baby has trouble breathing or swallowing, has a sudden cough or wheeze or develops widespread hives after taking a prescription medicine or high-risk food, consult a doctor or emergency room immediately.
The raised red or pinkish bumps associated with hives are the first symptom. The area may or may not be itchy and some hives will lead to a rash. The area of the hives and rash may be related to the cause, an example being an insect bite, or they may be all over the body, which would be caused by something else entirely. See below for the many causes of widespread and localized hives.
The causes for hives on babies are grouped into two categories. The first is widespread hives all over the body and the second is localized hives confined to one area of the body. See below for the different causes of each.
Localized hives will be isolated to one area of the body, although the area may spread or move. This type of reaction is not caused by drugs, infections or swallowed foods, as these items get into the bloodstream and cause widespread hives. Causes for localized hives include:
Widespread hives cover the entire body and are the result of an allergen, irritant or virus entering the bloodstream. Even in cases diagnosed by a physician, the cause of widespread hives isn’t found around 30% of the time. Causes for widespread hives include:
Hives, particularly mild cases that are not very irritating to the baby, usually resolve themselves without treatment in the span of a few hours. Depending on the case, a doctor may prescribe medication to treat the symptoms and the underlying cause, it can be found. Medications commonly prescribed for hives include antihistamines (OTC or a prescription) and prescription steroids antibiotics. It’s best to consult a doctor before treating hives with over-the-counter medications.
There are also home remedies for managing hives either along with suggested medication or on their own if the problem isn’t severe. Suggestions include:
Cool water baths (no lower than 85°F/29°C) without fragrances or soap work to soothe skin and wash away any irritants.
Because the causes for hives in babies are so widespread and can come from so many different factors, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent them. However, if your child has an allergic reaction to something around them, removing the item, be it a type of food or a new laundry detergent, will keep the reaction from occurring.