What are hives?
Hives are characterized by raised, itchy red bumps (also known as welts) that come and go on the skin surface. In addition to severe itching, hives may also cause the patient to experience a burning or stinging sensation. In more severe cases, it can be accompanied by wheezing or lightheadedness.
What causes hives?
Hives, otherwise known as urticaria, are often the body’s reaction to a certain allergen that may be found in food, medications or infections. The moment an allergic reaction occurs, the body releases histamines into the blood. Although the histamines aim to defend the body against outside intruders, excessive amounts can inadvertently cause swelling and itching of the skin.
In addition to allergic reactions caused by medications, pollen, or animal dander, hives can also be triggered by sunlight exposure, insect stings, and certain chemicals found in foods. They can occur as a reaction to emotional stress and excessive exercise, too.
Who is more likely to develop hives?
Anyone can have a hives breakout. It can occur at any age. People who have other allergies are more likely to develop hives. Hives may also develop unexpectedly to things that we are commonly exposed to. People who are ill are also more susceptible.
What are the symptoms of hives?
Hives display different symptoms.
- Itching on the skin
- Appearance of skin-colored welts (which are also called wheals) that look swollen and have clearly defined borders
- Growth of the wheals, spreading, and clumping with other wheals to form larger areas of raised skin
- Changes in the shape of wheals
- Disappearance and reappearance of wheals within a matter of minutes to hours
- Blanching of the wheal when the center is pressed
What should I expect as a result of hives?
Although hives can be uncomfortable, symptoms normally disappear in as little as 30 minutes and are rarely severe. However, severe cases can last for days to weeks. In very rare cases, the allergic reaction can affect breathing and require emergency assistance. The condition is usually harmless and readily treated.
How are hives treated?
At their Honolulu clinic, Dr. Matsuda, together with Dr. Sheu, will do a physical exam in order to determine and confirm the presence of hives. If your hives has been brought on by an allergic reaction, the doctor may perform skin tests and blood tests to further identify the cause of your hives.
In typical mild cases, the physician will advise you how to mitigate your symptoms:
- Take antihistamine medication, commonly diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or fexofenadine (Allegra) which causes less drowsiness.
- Avoid exposing your skin to hot temperatures in showers or baths.
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing.
- Avoid excessive scratching or scrubbing during baths.
When hives become so severe that swelling interferes with breathing or swallowing, 911 emergency assistance should be called so that treatment consisting of a shot of epinephrine or steroids can provide immediate relief.