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What is “hives”?

Hives is an inflammatory condition of the skin, caused by the release of Histamine and other substances that produce changes in the outer layer of the skin.The release of histamine could be caused by allergy or other causes.The medical name for hives is urticaria.Hives may be precipitated by stress.

What are the symptoms and signs of hives?

  1. Redness: A red rash appears on the skin caused by blood permeating the skin .
  2. Wheals: They are areas of raised skin ,usually surrounded by pale color .
  3. Itching: The red wheals are VERY itchy , and the itching is the main complaint from hives .

What are the types of hives and what causes them?

  1. Allergic urticaria: is an allergic reaction to allergens that usually come into contact with the skin. However allergens in food could also precipitate hives. The allergens react with cells in the body that release a massive amount of Histamine.
  2. Psychological hives: is a type precipitated by anxiety. It is also caused by a release of Histamine, but in a different way than allergic hives.
  3. Drug induced urticaria is the most dangerous type because it is associated with failure of the heart and lungs . Some drugs notorious for similar incidents include sulpha drugs (antibiotics and oral hypoglycaemics etc), aspirin, penicillin etc there might or might not be an allergy to the drug involved.

How is hives treated?

Since the mechanism of the disease is based on Histamine, obviously Anti-histamines are the mainstay of treatment.

Steroids and itching drugs are given too.

  1. Anti-histamines are drugs that antagonize the effect of histamine, they usually cause drowsiness (Promethazine, Prochlorperazine etc), and care should be taken when using them with other drugs that affect wakefulness or with alcohol. Some anti-histamine do not cause this side effect like Loratadine.
  2. Steroids can be given orally or as a topical application depending on the severity of the urticaria.
  3. Anti-pruritic drugs decrease itching and they could be given as tablets or topical applications.
  4. In life-threatening hives (like in drug-induced urticaria), Adrenaline is required to support the heart function. People who are prone to severe urticaria should always have an adrenaline shot within reach.

Hives, medically referred to as Urticaria, can be described as a skin condition which is characterized by tiny, itchy and red bumps on the skin. Several people refer to these bumps as welts or the hives rash. Hives is a very common condition and can affect just about anybody, regardless of their age, gender, levels of physical fitness, and so on. Therefore, it is as common to see hives in children, as it is in adults. In some cases, hives may last for a long period of time. All instances of hives that last for more than 6 weeks are known as chronic hives. Contrary to the common belief this condition is not contagious. However, not a lot of people are aware of what the exact causes of hives are. One of the most common causes for hives in children is a food allergy.

Causes and Symptoms of hives

Hives occurs when there is an inflammation on the skin, which releases histamines as well as certain other chemicals into the blood. This could cause the small blood vessels to leak. The factors that could trigger such an occurrence are still not clear, but most health experts believe that the main causes of hives include disorders in the immune system, as well as conditions such as lupus disease or thyroid disease. In some people, especially children, the causes for hives could also include:

• Allergies towards specific foods, medication or other substances such as pollen, latex, insect bite, animal dander and so on
• Excessive exposure to heat or the sunlight
• Emotional stress
• Applying pressure on the skin
• Allowing the skin to come into contact with a rough surface
• Itching or scratching a part of the skin for an extended period of time 

Identifying the exact cause of hives in a person is a big challenge. Most people never learn what caused them to suffer from this skin problem even after undergoing several tests.

Hives can be either chronic or acute and the symptoms for both are the same. However, in case a person sees the hives symptoms for over 6 weeks at a stretch, or if the symptoms disappear after a while, only to reappear after a short period of time, then it is an indication of chronic hives. Given below are some of the most common hives symptoms:

• Raised welts on the skin, which are either red or white in color
• Swellings of various sizes covering different parts of the skin
• Severe itching
• Burning or stinging sensation in the skin

In case a person feels light headed or has breathing and swallowing difficulties, it may be best to contact a doctor for emergency hives treatment.

hives’ treatment

In most cases, getting rid of hives can be a bit of a challenge, for medical health care providers, since the treatment for hives depends on the factors that cause it. There are several oral and topical medicines that can be prescribed by a doctor, which include antihistamines, oral corticosteroids, H2 antagonists and Tri-cyclic antidepressants. However, most people prefer using home remedies for relieving the symptoms of hives in children. Some of the best remedies to relieve the discomfort caused by hives include:

• Application of clean, cold and wet compresses on the skin
• Taking a cooling bath to alleviate the itchiness preferably by adding either oatmeal or baking soda to the water
• Wearing clothes that are loose fitting and do not aggravate the itchiness

Submitted on January 16, 2014