What are Hives?

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  • Written By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2018
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Hives are raised, itchy welts on the surface of the skin caused by hypersensitivity to a substance. When the body encounters a substance that it is allergic or sensitive to, it releases histamines and other chemicals into the bloodstream. As a result, the capillaries and tiny veins leak. The leaking fluid gets trapped in the skin and lining membranes, which causes the localized swelling seen with hives. The welts, which are also called wheals, may remain small, or may spread large enough to join together. The center of the welt blanches, or turns white, when pressed.

When hives occur around the face, particularly around the lips and eyes, they are called angioedema. Angioedema may also occur on the hands, feet and throat. Hives can come and go suddenly, often without any apparent cause. It is estimated that up to 70% go undiagnosed as to the cause, because they can appear hours after exposure to the irritant.

Up to 20% of people will have hives at some point in their lives, but surprisingly, girls are more prone to them than boys. Family history also plays a part in determining whether a person is inclined to developing hives. If you have a genetic tendency to allergies or food sensitivities, chances are that you may develop them sometime.


Hives are a manifestation of an inflammatory response of the body. Substances which trigger this response can come from many different sources. Common triggers include medicine, food, contact irritants, infection or illness, environment and stress.

Medicines, such as antibiotics, often trigger hives. Food such as shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, nuts, berries and food additives are the most common histamine triggers. Some contact irritants which can bring on a reaction include animal dander, moth scales, animal saliva and insect bites and stings.

Inhaled irritants also can cause hives — this is often common with people who suffer from hay fever. Mold and pollen are other inhaled allergens that may cause them. Illnesses, infections and parasites such as mononucleosis, strep and giardia can cause an inflammatory response as well.

There are several other physical causes of hives, or uticaria, as doctors call them. These include cold uticaria, which are those caused by contact with cold water or air. Dermatographia is a more rare cause, affecting only 5% of people. People who suffer from dermatographia get hives by simply rubbing or stroking their skin.

Pressure uticaria is caused by tight clothing or jewelry. Heat, exercise or emotional stress can cause cholinergic uticaria. Aquagenic uticaria results from exposure to sweat and water. One of the rarest forms solar uticaria, which is caused by exposure to the sun.

Although hives are can vary as to how itchy they are, they are usually uncomfortable to experience. They are harmless but can indicate a serious allergy or underlying illness. Chronic uticaria should be investigated by your physician.

Complications can include anaphylaxis, which is a swollen airway. This can be the result of a serious allergy and should be treated immediately. Symptoms of a serious reaction include tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue or face, wheezing and loss of consciousness.

Home treatments for welts include over the counter anti-itch cream and antihistamines such as Benadryl. For those who seek the treatment of a doctor, Atarax, a more powerful antihistamine, may be prescribed. Newer antihistamines with H2 blockers such as Cimetidine have proved useful in the treatment of allergies and the resulting hives.


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Post 27

@anon26190: Can you please tell me the product name, as I suffer from the same high altitude hives?

Post 26

I think I have also developed hives /urticaria. I've never had any such skin problem and they started as I began to use radox bath soak. Could there possibly be a link?

Post 25

My daughter has just had a bath and ended crying and screaming as her feet were unbelievably itchy and hot. She couldn't stop crying and I had to lift her out of the bath.

I didn't know what was going on, so I smothered her feet with calamine lotion and this eased it. This is the second time this has happened and we have now noticed its because she was using Radox Bath Soak! She has allergies anyway. Does anyone know what the chemical is in Radox that is triggering this itchiness? The strange thing is, is that it only happens to her feet.

Post 24

I have a skin irritation and hives that appear, grow and join together and after a few hours disappear, but then spread to other parts of the body, especially the legs and arms. What can I do to eliminate this problem?

Post 23

I started getting heat hives last year after I stopped exercising for two months. I started P90x and forced myself to sweat though the hives. After one week, my hives were completely gone for about five or six months.

I stopped exercising the last month and the hives have started attacking me again. Each reaction seems to keep getting worse. I am going to start doing jump rope sessions and start forcing myself to sweat.

One weird thing I have noticed is that when I first got hives I was using Radox men's shower gel and unintentionally stopped using it and that was when my hives ware cured. I got my hives back at the same time I bought some more Radox shower gel. A previous post also mentions someone using Radox as well.

Post 22

So how exactly do you stop the hives from spreading to other parts of your body?

Post 21

anon10430: I have the same exact problem as you. you described perfectly what i have been dealing with for the past two years, also.

Post 20

i get rashes that get all over my body but they come and go. for a while I'm okay then the next the rashes start once again. what seems to calm me is cold water or some allergy medication. i don't know what i may be allergic to or what i have. can you help?

Post 19

I have had extreme hives for three years. Food allergies were eliminated as the cause. Told I would have them forever. These hives are monsters that swell hands & feet to the place where I can't use them. Also get them on my tongue, all body parts and even in my wind pipe/stomach area. They are enormous and grossly distort the extremities. Painful more than itchy. Told by Dr. that it's because I produce too many histamines.

Can't take antihistamines. Any suggestions? Suffering every day!

Post 18

I started getting hives about two months ago. First they started on my elbows itching with welts, then across my chest, then to the center of my back. They clear up for a few hours then start again in those three places. Today they started in my scalp all over. The itch is terrible. Only thing that relieves me is calamine lotion. Is there anything else I could do to get rid of this? help!

Post 17

I have been diagnosed with chronic hives (urticaria and angioedema) after six months or more since onset. They keep worsening.

I am now on prednisone for a short stretch, plus taking three antihistamines per doctor's orders. I still have some hives and I am amazed. It is a living nightmare, as others can attest!

But I do notice many foods on the "foods containing histamine" lists I have found online do worsen things. I have made a list of foods that supposedly will not trigger more hives or at least that don't have histamine in them or which don't trigger histamine release.

plan to eat only those foods for a week to see if I can start to get control

of those. The allergist did thorough testing which showed I am not allergic to anything except dust.

I think this may be an autoimmune thing. In any case, it is "idiopathic," meaning there is no identified cause. But I think diet is a key for me so I am going to work on that. It may not cure me but it may keep it down a bit while the medicines do their part to keep it minimized. It is disheartening but I have to be practical and do what I can to live with this until it decides to disappear, if it does, as hives often do (so I hear).

Post 16

For those of you who can't figure out how you contacted hives, check out Monsters Inside Me. It might be a parasite in your body.

Post 15

Just want to share my bad experience of having hives. I got this rash all of a sudden. And i don't even know what I'm allergic to.

Three days ago i developed red spots on my arms. Thought it was just a normal rash so i ignored it. Two days later more rashes start to pop out. And it's all over my arms, thighs and worst on my tummy. It itches so much that i can't even sleep.

I went to see my family doctor and was prescribed Kestine tablets for morning and chlorpheniramine tablets for night time. I was given calamine lotion to reduce the itchiness. It got better. And i was relieved.

Post 13

I've been having welts all over my body after i gave birth. At first it was just few then two months ago i keep getting it usually every night. I never missed a night without getting it and sometimes my lips gets swollen too and my eyes, and there are times when i just woke up in the morning I'll start itching and have welts on some part of the body and spreads and even grow bigger in a pale white color.

I'm not allergic to any food before and i tried eating different kind of food everyday to check where it's coming from but i still get it every day. Can somebody help me about this. Thanks!

Post 12

i had hives twice in may. it was so bad. i started to itch everywhere and up to now am not scratching anymore but it's still there.

Post 11

I just came back from urgent care I've had hives for tree days and they itched terribly. By the time the doctor saw me, the only place I didn't have them were on my face but I did have them on my neck. They gave me a ephedrine shot that had me shaking all over.

They said they give this same shot to people who have heart attacks to speed everything up in their bodies. I also got prednisone to take for four days. I didn't like the shot but when I stopped shaking I was glad I got it. What a mess! Oh well, on with life. I hope this helps.

Post 10

Two days ago I started getting hives. It may be the shower gel I am using, which I am going to stop using (Radox) or it could be an insect bite (I noticed two or three bites around my ankles). But it is insanely uncomfortable. I have them everywhere: my legs, arms, hands, chest, stomach, back, face. (luckily not around the genital area!)

I am currently using a 2p coin to try and satisfy the itching!

Post 9

For me it started three days ago. I think I'm allergic to some insect bites because I saw tiny dots near the area where the hives were. I am currently taking antihistamine and I put Caladryl then it would completely disappear after an hour or two.

There are a lot of different causes for hives and I am unsure why they recurred today when I just stayed inside the house. I want this to go away completely without having to take medicines everyday. I wonder what that nutritional shake's name was so maybe I can try that too.

Post 8

i get hives too, but could I also get a swollen lip or eye or chin? does anyone know the cause to this or what i could take to get rid of them completely instead of getting a symptom, then taking a tablet, as i would rather take a tablet everyday than to get it! thank you very much; much help is needed!

Post 7

about 3 years ago my husband started getting terrible hives. his whole body looks like an alligator when it flares. we have tried testing, medicine, food diaries and can't find the cause. medication only gives a little relief when its flared up then it goes away sometimes for months and even one 6 month peiod but he is miserable and even has tried alternative herbal medicine. how can i help him?

Post 6

I get hives too. About 2 years ago mine started and I have not been able to find out cause,have been tested and retested and still I itch,break out and am generally miserable and terrible itchy.I know it must be something I eat, but where do I!!!!!

Post 5

I get red spots that I itch and then become hives. Tha main areas affected are under the arms, around the waist, neck, buttocks, groin area. The hives are more pronounced after eating, showering and sweating. I've been treated for many different conditions, but with no cure so far. There are days when the symptoms are not quite as bad as other days. Does anyone have any comments or experience with this type of condition?

Post 3

Greetings, I just need to email to let you know that I have a daughter that suffered from this condition for over 10 years. We went to dermatologists, internists, naturopaths, vitamin coaches, on and on with *no* relief.

She would deal with this all winter long (we live in MN) and then every summer we go hiking in the mountains and as soon as we’d hit high altitude, “boom” she’d start itching miserably!

One year we went straight to the emergency room from our mountain trip because she was so bad! Two (almost three) years ago we started a powder nutritional product that I doubted would help. Today she’s symptom free (as long as she takes her shakes) and we

are so thankful! It took 2-3 months on the shakes before she was experiencing relief, but since then she’s had no problems. The only time she’s had a flare up is if she doesn’t take her shakes, then she bumps right back up again. It’s just nutrition so she obviously need this food!

I was introduced to someone today who has urticaria and she told me about its symptoms and I couldn’t believe it! When I looked on the images online I was amazed because all the years with no diagnosis for my daughter and now I know. So if we can help *anyone* we’d feel privileged.

We are so thankful someone shared with us and would be happy to pass this blessing on. If you’d like to know more, just email me back and I’d be happy to help.

-Sincerely, Karin

Post 2

Ask your doctor, for a medicine called "Antihistamine" for your hives.

Post 1

I get hives for absolutely no reason. It started happening about 2 years ago, and now I get them everywhere. I generally don't even have to do anything, or somethings I will have a slight itch, I'll scratch it and it will become hives. It becomes extremely uncomfortable, and makes it hard to sleep sometimes. Any ideas? It would be great if you could help!

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