Urticaria, more commonly known as Hives, is most often the sign of an allergic reaction although the exact cause is frequently unknown. When triggered, Hives develop primarily as the result of certain cells in your body releasing histamine. This secretion of histamine traps fluid under your skin and this buildup causes the outbreak of Hives.
Skin will appear blotchy or affected with localized pink or red bumps or welts in small patches or large outbreaks (then called Angioedema). This visually perceived redness (called “wheals”) can be accompanied by itching, swelling, and burning or stinging sensations. Hives can last for a few minutes or hours and then disappear or last for weeks or months at a time, depending upon your chosen method of treatment.
There are 2 types of Hives: Acute (lasting from minutes to a few weeks) and Chronic (lasting for months to years). There is no visual difference between the two. The most common symptoms of Hives are localized reddening, itching, and swelling of your skin.
Hives can appear round or flat in formation but will always be raised above the surrounding skin. Although broken or scabbing skin is not a direct symptom of Hives, it can result from scratching the affected area. Heat can also cause your Hives to worsen and spread. In extreme cases, your airways can swell, causing wheezing and respiratory distress, or even hindering your ability to breathe at all.
What Causes Hives?
Hives can remain dormant, only becoming symptomatic under certain circumstances (such as particular times of day, types of weather, or during times of emotional distress). There are a number of factors, naturally varying from person to person, that can serve to trigger or further aggravate Hives. Unfortunately, most people never pinpoint the cause of their Hives.
Some possible causes are:
- Pollen or dust
- Extreme shifts in body temperature, like after vigorous exercise or diving into a cold pool
- Synthetic products, such as perfume, laundry detergent, or deodorant
- Fungal, bacterial, or viral infections
- Thyroid disorders
- Sun exposure
- Tetanus toxoid vaccination
- Gamma globulin
- Insect bites (especially mosquitoes, fleas, bee, wasp, hornet stings, and scabies)
- Certain foods:
- Nuts (especially peanuts, walnuts, and Brazil nuts )
- Fresh fruits (especially citrus, strawberries)
- Fish & shellfish
- Milk & cheese
- Food additives and preservatives
If it is known what triggers Hives outbreaks, a person can potentially prevent an outbreak by avoiding the source of the problem. Unfortunately, most people never identify the exact cause of their Hives.
Hives are basically identified upon visual inspection. It is important to note, however, that Hives are often misdiagnosed as insect bites or other types of skin rashes.
Additional methods of diagnosis may include:
- Consideration of medical history
- Allergy tests, like the skin prick
- Changing diets (if a certain food is suspected to be the cause)
Myths and Facts
FACT: Hives is one of the common symptoms of a food allergy.
MYTH: Hives must be treated with an anti-histamine shot.
FACT: Hives are most commonly treated with oral medications.
MYTH: Hives are contagious.
FACT: Hives themselves are not contagious, but certain conditions related to Hives outbreaks (viruses, bacteria, or parasites) can be contagious.
FACT: Hives is commonly mistaken for other types of skin rashes, such a Poison Ivy or heat rash.
MYTH: Stress causes Hives.
FACT: Although it is never the direct cause, anxiety can perpetuate a Hives outbreak. For that reason, relaxation techniques like yoga or simple breathing exercise may prove helpful in controlling Hives symptoms.
FACT: About 50% of children who experience Hives will outgrow the condition within a year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is at risk of developing Hives?
It is believed that 1 in 6 people will experience a Hives outbreak at some point in their life. If you have a family history of Hives, you are also at higher risk. In addition, although the reason is unknown, girls tend to be more susceptible to developing Hives than boys.
How can Hives be prevented?
Hives may be prevented by correctly identifying the cause and avoiding it. It has also been suggested that, after a flare-up of Hives, to not wear tight-fitting clothing and avoid immersing yourself in hot water since these things can cause the Hives to reappear.
Can stress cause Hives?
Stress doesn’t actually cause Hives but it can trigger a flare-up, or make an existing condition worse. Feelings, like anger and frustration, can also aggravate Hives. Since emotional stress can aggravate the condition, patients with Hives may find that techniques in stress management and relaxation can decrease their chances of having flare-ups.
Are Hives contagious?
What research is being done?
The Clinical Research Center at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick (http://rwjms.umdnj.edu/research/index.htm) is currently conducting a study on Chronic Hives. The study will last approximately 5-6 weeks and include volunteer participants 12 years and older who have been diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticaria. Results are forthcoming.
Also, a new once-daily antihistamine has been approved by the FDA for treatment of chronic Hives in people 6 years and older (view). Clinical testing of the drug Xyzal showed that it reduced the severity of itching and minimized blotchiness but carries side effects like drowsiness and nasal inflammation. Moreover, people with impaired kidney function are advised not to take this drug.
Where can I go for Information on Hives?
The internet is a great source for information on Hives but why spend hours searching when DermaTechRx Research Center can provide you with all the same information? This guide is jam-packed with collective research and studies, but for further up-to-date information on hives you may also want to reference Hives News Articles.