Hives and Swelling
What are hives?
Nearly one in four people have experienced itchy, red or white bumps, welts or patches on the skin called hives. The medical name for this condition is urticaria (ur-tih-CAR-ee-uh). Some hives are classified as acute hives and other cases are chronic. The difference depends on how long the symptoms last. They can happen because of an allergy or other causes. In most cases, hives come and go within a few hours. But they can show up again and again in some people.
Angioedema (an-gee-oh-eh-dee-ma) is a swelling reaction that affects deep layers of tissues underneath the skin. Angioedema usually causes puffiness of the face, eyelids, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and genitals. It is basically a hive that forms in a deeper layer of skin.
Hives are not contagious, but they can move from one location on the body to another.
Both children and adults can suffer from hives.
Some people who get hives or angioedema are having a dangerous allergic reaction. Call 911 or see a doctor or nurse right away if you suddenly get hives or get puffy and also have any of these symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Tightness in the throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cramps or stomach pain
- Passing out
Why did I get hives?
If you just got hives for the first time, you might have a new allergy to something. People can get hives because of allergies to:
- Medicines, such as antibiotics or aspirin
- Something they touched, such as a plant, animal saliva, or latex
- Insect stings
- Foods, such as eggs, nuts, fish, or shellfish
- If your hives are caused by an allergy, you may need to avoid whatever you are allergic to.
Hives can also be caused by:
- Having cold air or water on the skin
- Having something press or vibrate against the skin
- Changes in body temperature (such as when you cool down after a hot shower or a work out)
- Occasionally stress and anxiety (this is often related to body temperature, as well).
The word “acute” refers to a short period of time. Acute hives can last less than a day, or up to six weeks. Acute hives can be a reaction triggered by coming in contact with an allergen such as a food, animal dander, insect bite, latex or pollen. Identifying and avoiding the trigger can help prevent this allergic reaction from reoccurring.
Medications can potentially trigger hives. Reactions to medications can happen anytime throughout the life cycle of taking the medication. Hives can also occur from non-allergic causes. These include heat, stress, exercise or exposure to certain chemicals. One of the most common causes of acute hives in children is a viral infection.
If you have had hives on most days for more than six weeks, you probably do not have an allergy. Allergy as the cause of the hives is found in less than 5% of people with the condition. Hives that last this long are called “chronic hives.” In most cases, doctors do not know what causes chronic hives.
Rarely, chronic hives can be caused by an underlying illness (such as low thyroid, etc..). We may do some basic blood work to rule-out underlying disease if the hives are present over six weeks.
If you have chronic hives, you will probably need to take medicines every day to control them. Luckily, chronic hives do usually go away with time.
Whether acute or chronic, hives are often very itchy. This is because the swelling occurs in the layer of skin that has many nerve endings.
While most cases of hives get better on their own, here are some tips to reduce the itching and swelling:
- Avoid hot baths or showers.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Take antihistamines or other medicines as for the hives as directed.
- Severe flare-ups may require taking corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
Swelling without hives can also be caused by a condition called hereditary angioedema, or HAE.