Hives (Urticaria)

What are hives?

Hives are red raised extremely itchy bumps that come up and resolve within a few minutes to a couple of days without residual marks.  About 5 % of the population will suffer from hives at some point.  Acute hives lasting less than 6 weeks (sometimes longer) are thought to be due to an allergic reaction of some sort.  These tend to be self limiting and a cause is typically never identified. Chronic hives or hives lasting more than 6 weeks are generally thought to not be an allergic reaction.  They can be worsened by heat, pressure, stress, infections of any sort, alcohol, and certain medications.  Extensive testing is generally not recommended as there are few identified causes. 

Are hives life threatening?

Symptoms are troubling and along with severe itching of the skin, swelling of the lips, hands and feet are also commonly seen in those with wide spread hives. Generally symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing and abdominal pain are rarely seen in those with chronic hives.

Can I be tested for allergic triggers?

If there are other changes in the health or underlying autoimmune disease, your doctor may recommend certain diagnostics.  Otherwise the mainstay of treatment is antihistamine suppression.  Sometimes in refractory cases, your doctor may recommend an injected medication or an immune suppressant medication to prevent the hives.  The majority of those with chronic hives will have spontaneous improvement in 3-5 years from onset.

If you or someone you know is suffering from hives, get treated and start feeling better today. 

Author
Sandra A. Ho, MD

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