What are Hives?
Hives, also known medically as urticaria, are red, itchy, raised areas of skin that appear in varying shapes and sizes. They can appear anywhere on the body, including on the face, lips, tongue, throat, or ears. Hives can be a reaction to a variety of triggers, including allergies, stress, or infections. Urticaria is classified into two categories: acute and chronic, where the acute hives last less than six weeks, and chronic hives last more than six weeks. It is a common condition that can affect people of any age.
What Are the Different Types of Hives?
There are several types of hives, including:
- Acute Urticaria: generally lasts less than six weeks. Often triggered by allergies such as food, medications, or insect bites and appears as red, itchy welts that can emerge anywhere on the body.
- Chronic Urticaria: persists for more than six weeks. This condition shares the same characteristics as acute urticaria, but its prolonged nature can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.
- Physical Urticaria: hives that result from a non-allergic source, such as rubbing of the skin, cold, heat, physical exertion or exercise, pressure and direct exposure to sunlight..
- Dermatographism: a condition where hives appear shortly after the skin is stroked or scratched, often as a result of friction from clothing or self-scratching.
- Cholinergic Urticaria: occurs quickly after a trigger, generally lasting for a short period. This type is triggered by a rise in body temperature, which can result from activities like exercising, taking hot showers, or consuming spicy foods.
What is Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria?
Chronic idiopathic urticaria is a type of chronic hives that lasts for more than six weeks and has no known cause. “Idiopathic” means that the cause is unknown. Despite extensive research, the triggers remain unidentified, making the treatment a bit challenging. Individuals with this condition experience persistent symptoms that can significantly affect quality of life. However, with proper management and treatment, the symptoms can be controlled.
What is Angioedema?
Angioedema is a condition that involves deep dermal, subcutaneous, or submucosal swelling, often occurring in the soft tissues of the eyes and mouth. It can also affect the hands, feet, and throat. Similar to hives, it can be triggered by allergies, medications, or other factors. While it may look alarming, it often isn’t serious. However, severe angioedema can be life-threatening if it causes the throat or tongue to swell, blocking the airway, thus requiring immediate medical attention.
What Causes Hives?
Hives can be triggered by a wide variety of factors, including:
- Allergic reactions to foods, medications, or insect bites.
- Physical stimuli such as pressure, temperature, or exercise.
- Infections, including colds and viruses.
- Underlying autoimmune disorders.
It is not always possible to identify the exact cause of hives, which can sometimes make management and prevention challenging.
What are Common Symptoms of Hives?
Symptoms of hives can vary greatly depending on the type, but they often include:
- Red or flesh-colored welts that can appear anywhere on the body.
- Severe itching.
- Swelling of the affected areas.
- Pain or burning sensation (in some cases.)
The symptoms can change rapidly, with new hives appearing as old ones fade away. It is essential to monitor the symptoms closely and seek medical advice if the symptoms persist or worsen.
What are the Treatment Options for Hives?
Treatment options for hives and swelling include:
- Antihistamines to control itching and swelling.
- Corticosteroids for severe cases to reduce inflammation.
- Avoiding identified triggers.
- Applying cool compresses to affected areas to soothe irritation.
- Over-the-counter anti-itch creams to help manage itchiness.
In some cases, when the trigger is identified, desensitization therapy might be recommended. It’s crucial to work closely with a healthcare provider to find the most effective treatment plan for you.
How are Hives Diagnosed?
To diagnose hives, an allergist will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. They will inquire about recent exposures to potential allergens or irritants and when the hives first appeared. In some cases, diagnostic tests such as blood or skin tests may be necessary. For chronic hives, further testing might be needed to find any underlying health issues. Keeping a diary of outbreaks and possible triggers can be useful in pinpointing the cause.
When Should I Call a Doctor?
Hives and swelling should be taken seriously. Call a doctor if you experience severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, or swelling in the lips, tongue, or throat alongside hives, as this can indicate a serious allergic reaction needing immediate help. Also, seek medical advice if the hives persist for several days, recur often, or if over-the-counter treatments don’t work. In cases of known severe allergies, contact a healthcare provider right away if you come into contact with the allergen. It’s vital to be cautious and get medical help promptly when dealing with potential allergic reactions and hives.