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What are hives?

Hives (urticaria) are raised, red, itchy areas on the skin (also called wheals or welts) that appear as an allergic skin reaction. There can be one or many hives that vary in size and shape.

How does it occur?

Often, no cause for hives is found. Clusters of hives most often appear as an allergic reaction to one or more factors (irritants) such as foods, medications, insect bites or stings, infections, or emotional stress.

Hives or wheals may appear on any part of the body, but are most common on the arms, legs, and trunk. The rash may last for a few minutes or several days. It may recur and can be uncomfortable.

How is it treated?

The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on how serious your hives are. He or she may suggest that you do one or more of the following to relieve the itching and reduce the swelling:

• Soak in a lukewarm bath or use cool compresses.

• Avoid heat or rubbing.

• Take antihistamine medicine to reduce the allergic response.

How long will the effects of hives last?

The effects of hives can last from a few hours to several weeks or months. Hives will eventually clear without treatment, but taking drugs such as antihistamines or corticosteroids help the hives go away faster, treat the itch, and prevent new hive formation.

Chronic urticaria lasts for a longer period. Most often, more than 50% of the time, it is not possible to determine their cause. Antihistamines are usually very helpful. The hives resolve spontaneously after weeks or months but may recur off and on.

How can I take care of myself?

Call the doctor or 911 at once if you have an allergic response that affects your breathing. In addition, follow these guidelines:

• If your face begins to swell around the eyes and lips, call your doctor or 911 at once.

• Take antihistamines or other medications to help relieve your symptoms. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects or drug interactions.

• Avoid foods that seem to cause you to break out.

What can be done to help prevent hives from recurring?

When you know the cause of your hives you should take steps to avoid the offending irritant. You may need to take frequent, even daily, antihistamine to prevent recurrences.