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Hives: Symptoms & Treatment

Hives: Symptoms & Treatment

“Hives – itchy red welts that seem to come out of nowhere – affect 20% of people at some time in their lives,” reports Dr. Kellie Reed, a board-certified dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology. Why do hives appear and what can you do about them? Dr. Reed explains more below.


Hives (also called urticaria) are raised pink or red swellings on the skin that usually itch and sometimes sting or hurt. They appear on any part of the body and vary in size from as small as a pinhead to as large as a plate. Dr. Reed describes, “Hives can occur alone or as patches, they may change shape, move around, or disappear and reappear elsewhere. Individual hives may even connect to form bigger welts.” One distinctive characteristic of hives is their “blanching” – pressing the center of a hive makes it turn white. Hives may be acute, appearing and disappearing again within a few days; or they may be chronic, with welts that come and go for months. Hives do not bruise or leave scars, and individual welts last less than 24 hours.


Hives are caused by many factors. “Some foods, especially peanuts and shellfish, certain medications, insect bites, physical contact with latex or chemicals, pet dander, pollen, bacterial infections like strep throat and plants such as poison ivy are common causes,” Dr. Reed explains. Sometimes the trigger is obvious – you pet a cat and break out in hives within minutes. However, often the cause, especially for chronic hives, is more difficult to pinpoint.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To discover the cause of hives, your dermatologist reviews your health history, does a physical exam and may also request blood work and allergy testing. Dr. Reed states, “By exploring with you when the hives appeared in relation to your activities, your dermatologist works like a detective to determine the most likely trigger.” Focused allergy testing or a course of trigger elimination may also help clarify the specific cause.

Your dermatologist may prescribe a non-drowsy antihistamine to treat your hives. This medication blocks the effects of histamine, a chemical in the skin that causes allergy symptoms. If the trigger is obvious, your dermatologist will suggest ways to avoid or eliminate the cause – by avoiding certain foods, changing medications, staying away from pets, plants and pollen, or treating infections.

Hives are usually not life-threatening, but if your reaction includes swelling of your tongue or lips, or if you have trouble breathing, seek medical care immediately.

Contact Us

If you’re suffering from hives or if you have any concerns about skin care, the medical experts at Sanova Dermatology can help. Contact us today.