What are Hives?

This skin condition, also known as urticaria, appears suddenly and then disappears on its own, usually within a few hours. It is not uncommon for hives to materialize and then go away on a daily basis for a duration of several days or weeks. If this condition lasts up to eight weeks, it is considered chronic.

Hives are most often triggered by an allergic reaction to various substances. These include medications, food, pollen, pet dander and latex. Insect bites, poison ivy and sun exposure can also cause hives to appear on the skin. Although males and females are both susceptible to hives, women have them more frequently than men.

What are the Symptoms of Hives?

Hives appear as pink or red blotchy bumps on the skin that can differ in size and shape. The bumps may even change size before they completely go away. These welts can materialize on any part of the body and it is not uncommon for them to disappear in one area and then reoccur in a different place on the skin. Hives are often extremely itchy and scratching them can make the itching worse.

Hives Causes

Hives are generally caused by an allergic reaction, though sometimes they appear for unknown reasons. When your body is exposed to something it’s allergic to it will release histamine and other substances into the blood. In some cases, these substances will leak out of small blood vessels in the skin. The fluid buildup under the skin causes the hive to form.

There are two different kinds of hives. There are short term hives, or acute urticaria, and long term hives, or chronic urticaria and angioedema.

Acute urticaria is when the hives last less than six weeks, though they can last for much less time than that. Acute urticaria is generally triggered by food, medications, insect bites, or infections.

Foods that generally cause hives include nuts, fish, chocolate, eggs, fresh berries, milk, and tomatoes. Fresh foods are more likely to cause hives than cooked foods. It may not have been the food itself that caused the reaction; it may have been an additive or preservative.

Drugs are another common cause of hives. Drugs that commonly cause reactions in people are aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. Blood pressure medication and painkillers can also be to blame.

Chronic urticaria and angioedema is when the hives last longer than six weeks. It’s generally much harder to pin down the cause when this happens. Sometimes it can even be impossible to figure out what’s causing the hives. In some cases, it’s been found to be thyroid disease, infection, and cancer.

How are Hives Treated?

Since hives will eventually go away on their own, treatment from a medical professional may not be necessary.

Individuals can soak in a cool oatmeal bath or place a cool cloth on their skin to help relieve the itching and swelling. Those who have severe itching or chronic hives may be prescribed an antihistamine medication. This type of medicine helps to relieve the itching and swelling that accompanies hives. Another medication that a physician may prescribe is a corticosteroid, which also helps with itching, swelling and redness. If antihistamines and corticosteroids do not help, an autoimmune drug may be needed to relax the immune system if it is overactive.

Hives Prevention

Preventing hives generally comes down to preventing the allergic reaction in the first place.

There are several natural ways to reduce your body’s allergic response. Eating more fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods and refined sugar, has been shown to reduce the occurrence of allergic flare-ups in people. Eating probiotic rich foods, such as yogurt or kimchi, has also shown to help. There are also natural treatments such as neti pots and butter bur that people have found effective. Exercise has also been shown to reduce symptoms.

Avoiding allergens altogether will also prevent hives. If you need to expose yourself to the allergen, consider wearing a mask. Also change your clothes and wash up once you’re done to remove any traces of the allergen that have clung to you. You may also want to consider getting an air filter for your home and using better filters in your furnace or AC system.

There are also many antihistamines available over the counter or by prescription. There are even long-term allergy shots available through your doctor.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018