Hives are a very common condition, and the medical term for this condition is urticaria. Urticaria may be acute (relatively short lived, less than 6 weeks) or chronic (longer than 6 weeks, often lasting for years). When this type of skin reaction causes deeper swelling in the skin, especially around the eyes, lips, and tissues of the mouth, the medical term is angioedema. If angioedema occurs, emergency care is required to protect the airway.
Hives are welts on the skin that are red, raised, and often very itchy. Individual hives usually go away in 24 hours or less, but new ones can come up as others are fading away. Hives can appear anywhere on the body, but some people continue to get hives in the same spot or spots. Hives often recur when someone is exposed to a certain trigger. Triggers are different for different people, and the reaction can be immediate within a minute or delayed by several hours. Common triggers include:
- Food allergies: fruits, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish
- Insect bites or stings
- Animal allergies
- Pollen allergy
- Latex allergy
- Certain infections or illnesses
- Exposure to sun, head, cold, water, or pressure
- Rubbing/scratching the skin
- Contact with certain chemicals
Urticaria is diagnosed by a dermatologist by looking at the skin but may require biopsy. Mild hives can be soothed with cool cloth compresses. Treatment for mild to moderate cases of urticaria usually includes a combination of non-sedating antihistamines during the day and sedating antihistamines at night. Topical, oral, or intramuscular injection of corticosteroids may be used for short term treatment. Dapsone is a medication that is sometimes used, and more recently the biologic medication omalizumab (Xolair) is used for severe cases that are difficult to treat. At Summit Dermatology, we will work hard with you to find a treatment or combination of treatments that can control your urticaria and the associated itching.