Hives, or as it is known as in the medical field – urticaria; are a common skin ailment that affects multiple people on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter what the gender of the affected person is, the age, or the skin type – if a person comes into contact with something that causes hives, they will have hives.
In order to understand what can cause hives, what are the symptoms of hives and what happens when you are actually diagnosed; what hives exactly are should be clarified.
Hives are a raised, itchy rash that presents itself in the form of welts or blotches that can cover both small and large amounts, depending on the severity of the case. They aren’t a regular occurrence and should not be confused with eczema or other forms of dermatitis. There are numerous types of hives, all which have approximately the same symptoms but the recovery time can vary, along with the cause.
The different types of hives are:
- Acute Urticaria – will last less than six weeks and is typically caused by an allergic reaction or insect bite.
- Dermatographism – occurs when a person scratches vigorously at the skin for a prolonged period of time, removing the natural barrier against irritants and causes inflammation.
- Physical Urticaria – will last approximately a week and is caused by exposure to outdoor elements such as intense heat or extreme cold. Can also be caused by vigorous exercise due to the chafing of clothes against the skin.
- Chronic Urticaria and Angioedema – will last longer than six weeks and are caused by an underlying medical condition.
To fully treat an outbreak of hives; a person needs to know what category of urticaria they are dealing with, as some treatments will not work for all varieties.
Causes of Hives
Hives will occur more frequently in children, as they come into contact with allergens on a more regular basis both inside the residence and the outdoors due to their curious nature. They aren’t aware enough at a young age to stay away from potential allergen triggers. Those who have proved allergies are also more susceptible to hives.
An allergen reacts in the form of hives when it comes into contact with a person’s skin and it raises the levels of histamine in the bloodstream. These increased levels in the bloodstream then raise the skin as the excess fluid seeks a way out. The intense itching is a side effect of the raised histamine levels as well.
Common allergens that can cause an outbreak of hives include:
- Plants such as poison ivy
- Pet fur and dander
- Dust mites
- Extreme cold exposure or intense heat
- Certain infections or viruses – common cold, etc.
- Emotional or mental stress
- Heavy perfumed or fragrance products
- Food allergy
- Medication allergy
- Insect bites or stings
Once a person recognizes what causes hives on their skin, they become more aware and should avoid potential triggers all times it is possible. Those who currently suffer from allergies are more susceptible as well to urticaria breakouts.
Symptoms of Hives
Symptoms and the size of hives can vary, as not everyone’s skin reacts in the same way but there are common factors that occur in each case of urticaria.
- Itchy patches on the skin that surround the hive
- Redness in the area that the outbreak is occurring with the center of the hive a paler shade in color
- Raised welts that vary in size, ranging from a large mass to small clusters concentrated to one area
- Burning sensation in the hive itself
Treatment of Hives
The majority of hives outbreaks will go away within a few days of at-home treatment but the correct treatments must be administered at the beginning of the outbreak. The first and foremost important rule to follow is don’t scratch the skin of the hive. While this seems impossible as the hive grows and the itching becomes more intense, scratching can lead to infection and scarring.
People also find relief through the use of:
- Over-the-counter medication – relief can be found through the use of antihistamines (allergy pills) and anti-itch creams (Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream/ointment). Follow the instructions on the package for proper usage.
- Cold compresses – using a clean cloth, dampen it under cold water or wet multiple cloths and place them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Place the cold compress directly on the inflamed section of the skin and repeat as necessary.
- Add an anti-itch solution to bathwater – use oatmeal or baking soda dissolved in bath water to unlock natural anti-itch properties and soothe the skin. Use only room-temperature water in the bathtub, as hot water can further irritate the skin and make itching worse.
- Use an anti-itch solution on the skin – use calamine lotion or baking soda pastes (one part water to two parts baking soda) to reduce itch. Apply the lotion or paste directly to the skin affected and leave until dry. Gently wipe off residue with a damp, clean cloth after a few hours.
- Aloe-vera – if the variety of hives is causing painful burning instead of itching, apply aloe-vera to the site to naturally reduce the heat in the hive and cool the skin. A version that contains mint (generally sold in drug stores as sunburn relief) can be more effective.
- Using an anti-inflammatory oral tablet can also provide relief.
Hives are not contagious nor are they life-threatening but instead they are just a source of constant irritation due to their itchy nature and redness in appearance. Some people report feeling pain directly in the hive and the surrounding area which is caused by the inflammation of the skin. These are all normal symptoms of hives caused by an allergic reaction.
If hives last longer than six weeks or change in appearance (size, shape, intensity, etc.) contact a licensed medical professional or visit the local emergency department. If the hives are broken open, showing exposed skin and oozing clear or cloudy liquid; there is a possibility of infection which will require antibiotic treatment.