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Hives are bumps that occur on the skin’s surface. They are characterized as itchy red, raised welts, also known as wheals, that can spread or join together to form larger areas of raised lesions. They are generally triggered by exposure to an allergen or chemical irritant. Hives, also known as urticaria, tend to appear suddenly and often disappear quickly.

While hives are rarely dangerous on their own, they often indicate a greater health concern. This can be an allergy or serious disease. If you commonly experience hives, consider visiting a dermatologist. A doctor can assess your hives, conduct a allergy patch test to rule out specific allergens, and help develop a personalized treatment regimen.

What Causes Hives?

Hives are usually an allergic reaction to food, medicine or animals. They can also be triggered by sun exposure, stress, excessive perspiration or other, more serious diseases, such as lupus. Anyone can get hives, but they are generally harmless and non-contagious. Hives may itch, burn or sting. They rarely need medical attention as they tend to disappear on their own. However, in persistent cases, your dermatologist may prescribe antihistamines or oral corticosteroids. The best way to prevent hives is to discontinue exposure to the allergic irritant.

Hives lasting more than six weeks are known as chronic urticaria. This happens when there is swelling below the surface of the skin, also known as angioedema. There are no known causes of angioedema, but it can affect internal organs and therefore requires medical attention.

How to Identify Hives

Hives symptoms are typical of other types of skin rashes, like dermatitis. Therefore, it can be difficult to understand if hives constitute the breakout you are experiencing. The best way to characterize hives symptoms are if they appear suddenly. Most types of dermatitis will develop over time, but hives symptoms are trigged quickly when a person encounters an allergen. While some hives will disappear just as quickly, some will remain for several days or weeks.

Common Hives Treatments

Hives often disappear before requiring any type of long-term treatment. However, some forms of the condition may linger, and even short-term rashes can be very uncomfortable. Most hives treatment options include pain management and are available over the counter. For example, using a cold compress can relieve itchiness and reduce irritation, while applying an anti-itch solution or aloe vera can soothe symptoms. For more serious breakouts, antihistamines, calamine lotion, prednisone, and Benadryl can provide relief.

When to See a Doctor for Hives

While hives are not dangerous on their own, they can be very uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know what is triggering the reaction. Visiting a doctor can allow you determine which allergen is causing the rash, which can help you to avoid certain substances altogether. Similarly, you may have trouble identifying hives, as bumps could indicate a different type of rash.

Importantly, however, hives may also indicate an underlying condition. Only a doctor will be able to identify, diagnose, and prescribe the hives treatment you may need. If you are interested in an evaluation by one of our board certified medical dermatologists, contact us to schedule an appointment or consultation.