Baby Hives

Baby hives can be irritating to the child and distressing for the parents. There are many reasons why an infant might be experiencing tiny, red bumps or rashes, and there are a number of ways to treat the condition.

What are Baby Hives?

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.

What are the Symptoms of Baby Hives?

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.

Baby Hives Causes

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 Baby Hives

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:

  • Bee and insect stings: Hives are the result of a reaction to the bee’s venom or an insect’s saliva. A bite or sting may cause localized hives without being an allergy. (An allergic reaction will see widespread hives or swelling, trouble breathing, dizziness, cramps and nausea.)
  • Irritants: Hives in one area might be due to skin contact with an irritant, such as a new brand of soap, a type of fabric, perfume, etc.
  • Food: some children get hives from having food come in contact with their skin, like fresh fruit. Babies may also get hives surrounding their mouth from drooling while eating or tasting a new food.
  • Pet saliva: Some adults and children get hives from being licked by an animal.
  • Plants: Many plants can cause hives if they have skin contact with an infant, like evergreen sap or nettle plants.
  • Pollen: Particularly during springtime, playing in grass or flowers may cause hives on the exposed skin.

Widespread Baby Hives

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:

  • Anaphylaxis: This is a serious reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Widespread hives coupled with trouble breathing or swallowing is indicative of anaphylactic shock. This severe allergic reaction may be in response to ingesting a food or drug, typically within 30 minutes of swallowing and always within two hours of being exposed.
  • Bee sting: Widespread hives following a bee sting are a symptom of an allergy, along with swelling, trouble breathing, dizziness, cramps and nausea.
  • Bacterial infection: Some, but not all, bacterial infections lead to hives. The most common bacterial causes of hives are strep and urinary tract infections.
  • Drug reaction: A rash or hives may occur when taking an antibiotic in reaction to the virus the drug is treating. A common type of drug reaction is a penicillin rash.
  • Food: Without the symptoms of anaphylaxis, hives may be caused by a mild reaction to something eaten. If the food is high risk, like nuts, an allergist may be consulted. Hives resulting from a food reaction typically end within six hours.
  • Viral infection: This is the most common cause of widespread hives all over the body. Viral hives are typically accompanied by a fever, cough or diarrhea. These types of hives may last up to three days and are not usually the result of an allergy.

How are Baby Hives Treated?

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.

  • Cool compresses on the affected area to relieve irritation and itching
  • Dress in loose clothing to reduce friction and irritation on the area
  • Anti-itch creams or lotion, such as calamine, to help soothe the skin. Consult a doctor if in doubt about usage or safety.
  • Trimming the baby’s nails will help reduce irritation caused by itching and scratching the affected area.

Baby Hives Prevention

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.