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eMed previously Babylon Health


Reviewed by Dr Claudia Pastides, 24th April 2019

Hives - also known as urticaria - is a raised and itchy rash that can appear anywhere on the skin’s surface. Hives affects children and adults equally, and can occur for a multitude of reasons, including as a reaction to an allergen. Most cases of hives will disappear on their own within a day or so - this is called acute urticaria, and it affects around one in five people at some point in their lives.

Those with chronic urticaria may suffer with the rash for weeks or even months. If you think you have developed hives and would like to seek the opinion of a medical professional, get in touch with one of our GPs today.

What causes hives?

Hives have multiple different causes, including insect stings, exposure to certain chemicals, medications, specific food ingredients, latex and other irritants. Acute urticaria can also be triggered by heat, stress or exercise. When high levels of histamine (part of the body’s natural immune response) are released in the skin, it can cause the local blood vessels to leak. The excess fluid causes the tell-tale itching and swelling that comes with a hives outbreak.

Chronic urticaria is slightly different. It does share some triggers with acute urticaria, but is more likely to be caused by an autoimmune problem, a long-term infection or a hormone condition.

Symptoms of hives

The symptoms of both acute and chronic urticaria include:

  • A raised red rash anywhere on the body - this can be confined to a small area, or spread across a large section of your skin.
  • Swelling of the tissue surrounding the rash.
  • Pain, itching or burning in the inflamed area.

In some cases of hives, a condition called angioedema can develop at the same time. This triggers swelling in some of the deeper tissues of the body, commonly around the eyelids, lips and face. The tongue and throat can also be affected in rare cases, which can cause problems breathing and swallowing. If you suspect you have hives and angioedema, please seek emergency medical assistance as this may be a sign of a severe allergic reaction.

Treating hives

Acute urticaria usually won’t require any treatment - the rash will often disappear within a day or so. Antihistamines and corticosteroids can help manage the symptoms if you find that the rash is taking a while to clear up. For those with chronic urticaria, managing the condition will involve identifying and avoiding triggers. This could mean cutting certain foods from your diet, learning to manage stress and avoiding certain chemicals or medications.

If you’re experiencing regular hives outbreaks, or if your acute urticaria doesn’t seem to be clearing up on its own, speak to a doctor today to find out more about treatment options.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.