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Hives are red raised bumps or welts on the skin. Hives (or urticaria) is a common skin reaction to something like an (a substance that causes allergies).

“Hives are characterized by red or pale-colored welts on the skin, which typically come and go throughout the day,” says Sourab Choudhury, DO, a dermatologist and the chief medical officer at the Dermatology Specialists, a private dermatology practice in New York City. “Sometimes they itch, burn, or sting.”

If a non-drowsy antihistamine doesn’t work, the doctor may suggest a stronger antihistamine, another medicine, or a combination of medicines. In rare cases, a doctor may prescribe a steroid pill or liquid to treat chronic hives. Usually this is done for just a short period (5 days to 2 weeks) to prevent harmful steroid side effects.

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Hives (Urticaria)

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There are two types of hives – short-lived (acute) and long-term (chronic). Neither is typically life-threatening, though any swelling in the throat or any other symptom that restricts breathing requires immediate emergency care.

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Hives Triggers

Individual hives can last anywhere from a few hours to a week (sometimes longer), and new ones might replace those that fade. Hives that stay for 6 weeks or less are called hives; those that go on longer than 6 weeks are hives.

Hives usually are caused by other things besides infection, although it could be from a virus. It could be from an allergen, or some sort of an allergy that you have. It could be from a hormonal change. And it even could be emotional in some situations.Allergist Stanley Fineman, MD

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Researchers have identified many – but not all – of the factors that can cause hives. These include food and other substances you take, such as medications. Some people develop hives just by touching certain items. Some illnesses also cause hives. Here are a few of the most common causes:

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Is It Hives or Angioedema?

Hives due to physical causes (such as pressure, cold, or sun exposure) are called physical hives.

Sometimes a breakout of hives has nothing to do with allergies. Other causes include:

Antihistamines – available either over the counter or by prescription – are a frequently recommended treatment for hives. They work by blocking the effect of histamine , a chemical in the skin that can cause allergy symptoms, including welts. Antihistamines that don’t make you drowsy are preferred. They are effective and long-lasting (may be taken once a day) and have few side effects. Your allergist may recommend a combination of two or three antihistamines to treat your hives, along with cold compresses or anti-itch balms to ease the symptoms.

Hives Symptoms: What They Look Like

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Severe episodes of urticaria may require temporary treatment with prednisone, a similar corticosteroid medication or an immune modulator, which can reduce the severity of the symptoms.

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How Are Hives Diagnosed?

The hallmark red raised welts are the main sign of hives. The welts can:

Most often, hives are associated with an allergic reaction, which can make the skin break out within minutes. Common allergies include:

If your reaction involves swelling of your tongue or lips, or you have trouble breathing, your allergist may prescribe an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector for you to keep on hand at all times. These can be early symptoms of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock. The only treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine . If you develop hives and your injector is not nearby – or if using the auto-injector doesn’t cause the symptoms to immediately improve – call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. Emergency medical services carry epinephrine and can provide prompt treatment. You should also go to the emergency room after using an auto-injector.

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