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Hives

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Hives, which are also clinically referred to as Urticaria, look like red welts on the skin and are often puffy or swelled in appearance. Hives typically itch and can become infected with persistent scratching. Hives are the body’s reaction, typically to an allergen, and thus are not contagious.

HIVES SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of hives are easy to recognize. Typically mild red welts begin to appear on the skin, either prior to just after the skin begins to itch. The mild red welts often grow in size, especially the more often the patient scratches the hives. Hives may or may not be accompanied by a fever. Typically, hives are a solitary symptom and have no adjoining symptoms.

HIVES CAUSES

Hives can be caused by numerous factors, such as food allergies, insect bites, pet dander allergies, pollen allergies, or medication allergies. They can also coincide with specific illnesses such as emotional stress, extreme cold, extreme heat, mononucleosis, lupus or other autoimmune diseases, infections, or excessive sweating.

HIVES RISK FACTOR

The only risk factors for hives are the pre-existing conditions that remain the causative factors. Someone who has allergies to nuts is more likely to develop hives than someone who is not allergic to anything. Those with sensitivities, or those with pre-existing diseases such as autoimmune diseases, are likely to experience hives whenever the body becomes agitated with its conditions.

HIVES DIAGNOSIS

The diagnosis of hives is not complicated. A physician can simply look at the skin and determine if the welts present are hives. Under some circumstances, blood test may be performed to evaluate whether or not the hives were caused by an allergy and possibly even to determine the causative allergen.
Hives
Image: Hives


Although rare, skin infections can set in if the hives are scratched open and exposed to the air. It is best to keep scratching to a minimum in order to avoid this complication. Hives can accompany anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms such as swelling of the throat, closing of the airway, and difficulty breathing are likely to occur. In these instances it is vital that the patient receives immediate emergency medical care.

HIVES TREATMENT

Most hives require no treatment at all and will subside by themselves. In most cases, the cause is treated, if possible, and the itch is regulated as much as possible with the use of either antihistamines or other itch medications while the hives dissipate. Some hives only last for a few hours and need no treatment whatsoever. Other hives can last for weeks or even months if the cause is not determined or removed form the diet or environment. Hives that are obstructing the patient’s ability to breathe may require shots of epinephrine, or even a treatment of steroids to decrease the inflammation. This is especially true for hives that erupt in the mouth or throat or are accompanied by difficulty breathing.

When hives appear, it is best to try to treat the area by eliminating factors that may increase irritation. Avoiding hot baths or showers, sun exposure, tight fitting clothing, and harsh and abrasive cleansers will help the hives dissipate faster. The use of a calamine lotion will help calm the itch, cool the skin, and often keep the patient from scratching.


Hives that are related to a serious allergic reaction may present with more serious symptoms, such as swelling of the face, mouth, lips, or throat, tightness of the chest, difficulty breathing, and unconsciousness, fainting, or wheezing. These symptoms require emergency medical care and can be fatal. A health care professional should be contacted in the even the hives are severe, particularly uncomfortable, or are not responding to home treatments.

Hives can be a one time occurrence or they can happen regularly. If they tend to happen often, it is best to seek the advice of a physician. The physician may not be able to prevent occurrences of hives, but may be able to shorten their appearance time and allow for greater patient comfort. If hives are the result of an allergic reaction, removing the allergens from the patient’s vicinity will help prevent future breakouts. Food allergies should be thoroughly tested to prevent future occurrences as well as prevent anaphylaxis.
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