Overview – What is it?
Hives are red itchy bumps or plaques on the skin that are caused by a reaction to certain substances, certain medicines and foods.
The symptoms for this condition include red patches on the body, itching and painful swelling of the lips, eyelids or throat.
Diagnosis is done through carrying out a physical exam or by blood and skin tests.
This condition can be treated at home using over-the-counter drugs or prescription medications.
Hives can be prevented by avoiding triggers such as pollen, certain medicines, certain foods and certain infections.
Causes – What causes it?
Hives are brought about by triggers that cause high levels of histamine and other chemicals to be released in the skin. These triggers include:
- Certain medications
- Insect or parasite bites
- Dust mites
- Some chemicals
- Some chronic illnesses such as lupus
- Heat or cold
- Alcohol or certain foods like eggs and nuts
- Bacterial infection like strep throat and urinary tract infections
- Pressure exerted on the skin from tight clothing or other items like waistbands
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The signs and symptoms for hives may persist for weeks and tend to get worse with triggers.
The symptoms for hives include:
- Itching which may be severe
- Change in shape and size of the hives
- Swelling that is painful
- Red patches on the skin appearing anywhere on the body
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Hives are diagnosed through a physical exam which enables the doctor to look out for the symptoms of the condition. The doctor might also want to know whether you have taken any medication, what you have eaten or drunk, how many times the hives have appeared and how long they take to fade and any other information that may help in the diagnosis. The doctor can then recommend other tests such as:
- Blood tests (including a complete blood count test) and
- Skin test to determine which substance you are allergic to.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of hives can be done using:
- Home remedies like over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines. If home remedies do not work, other medicines may be recommended.
- Other medications include:
- Anti-inflammation medications such as prednisone to lessen swelling, itching and redness
- Asthma drugs with antihistamines which interfere with the action of leukotriene modifiers
- Immune-suppressing drugs
- Histamine blockers taken orally or injected
- Monoclonal antibodies which can be used to treat chronic hives
In the case of chronic hives, management is necessary by avoiding the triggers for this condition.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Since there is no specific way to prevent hives, prevention of triggers is the best way to prevent or manage hives. This can be done through lifestyle changes such as:
- Wearing loose or light clothing
- Avoiding scratching
- Avoiding harsh soaps
- Applying sunscreen before going out into the sun
- Soothing the affected area with a bath, lotion or anti-itch cream
- Keeping a record of when the hives appear and how long they take to disappear
- Avoiding substances that trigger hives by, for example, getting allergy shots