The rash that appears with hives can be extremely itchy and spread across large areas of someone's body. While the symptoms of hives can be very irritating, there are many ways to treat, soothe, and get rid of hives. In most cases, the rash usually settles within a few days.
What is hives?
Hives is a type of skin condition usually resulting in a raised, itchy rash. There are several different types of hives, although the effects are mostly the same. Types of hives include:
Acute urticaria. This rash lasts less than 6 weeks and is usually brought on by an adverse or allergic reaction to certain foods or medications. Infections and insect bites can also cause this type of rash.
Chronic urticaria and angioedema. These rashes last for more than 6 weeks. The rash is may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as thyroid disease, cancer, or hepatitis.
Chronic urticaria and angioedema is a more severe form of hives than acute urticarial, as it can spread to different areas of the body, including the lungs, muscles, and gastrointestinal tract. Angioedema is not usually itchy but causes a deeper swelling of the skin.
Physical urticaria. This is due to irritation of the skin. Extreme heat or cold, overexposure to the sun, excessive sweating, or clothes rubbing the skin during exercise can all result in an outbreak. This rash rarely spreads beyond the original location.
Dermatographism. This condition is when hives occurs due to scratching or vigorously rubbing the skin.
A hives outbreak occurs when high levels of histamine and other chemical messengers are released into the skin, causing a rash and other symptoms to surface. The high levels of histamine cause blood vessels in the affected area to open up and start to leak. The resulting fluid in the tissues causes swelling and itchiness. Different triggers might cause a person to have an outbreak of hives. Some common causes include:
- an allergic reaction to food, an insect bite, or an animal
- a reaction to a plant irritant, such as nettles
- a change in temperature
- sun exposure
- an infection, such as the flu or a cold
- certain medications
- preservatives and food additives
Aspirin and ibuprofen, some blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors), and codeine are medications commonly associated with hives. If a person breaks out in hives, it is important for them to know what has triggered the reaction. Certain things can make the symptoms of hives worse, including:
Hives affect around 15 to 20 percent of people at some point during their lifetime. They are more likely to occur in women and children than men.
In the majority of cases, people use home remedies to treat hives and do not seek further medical attention or intervention. Effective home remedies to treat hives include:
- A cold compress. A person can apply a cool, damp cloth to the affected area. This can provide relief from itchiness and help reduce inflammation. A cold compress can be used as often as necessary.
- Bathing in an anti-itch solution. Oatmeal and baking soda baths can soothe skin and reduce irritation. Adding witch hazel to a bath is another effective home remedy.
- Applying aloe vera. The healing properties of aloe vera may soothe and reduce hives. It is advisable, however, to do a skin test before applying aloe vera to the entire area that is affected.
- Avoiding irritants. This includes perfumes, fragranced soaps or moisturizers, and staying out of the sun. A person should also stay cool and wear loose, comfortable clothing.
Some people with chronic hives have reported reduced symptoms when taking vitamin D supplements.
In more severe cases of hives, medical treatment may be preferable. Some over- the-counter options include:
- antihistamines to reduce itchiness
- steroid tablets, such as prednisone
- calamine lotion
- diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl
For more severe and persistent hives, a doctor may refer a person to a dermatologist.
When to see a doctor
The severity of a hives outbreak can vary from person to person, and while most people will be able to manage their symptoms at home, there are some cases where seeking medical attention is advisable. A person should see a doctor if:
- symptoms last more than a few days
- symptoms worsen over time
- the rash is painful or leaves a bruise
- symptoms interfere with daily life
- a person experiences dizziness
- the throat or face begins to swell
- breathing becomes difficult
- a person has tightness in the chest
A doctor will examine the rash and ask questions to try to determine the cause. Blood tests and allergy tests may be used to rule out certain causes.
Hives is usually very treatable and does not cause complications on its own. However, in more severe cases, angioedema may occur. Angioedema is a buildup of fluid in layers of the skin that causes swelling and can affect the eyes, lips, hands, feet, and genitals. Medication can be prescribed to manage and reduce the swelling. Recurrent hives can negatively impact the quality of a person's life, causing them to feel stressed or anxious and can even lead to depression. A person should always speak to a doctor if hives is affecting the quality of their life. Some of the home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.