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Hives (or urticaria) are itchy, pink or red, swollen patches of skin. (Read about "Skin") The raised spots can vary in size, and be found anywhere on the body.
Hives can be acute or chronic. Acute hives occur in response to something specific, and usually disappear within a month. Chronic hives can last for months or even longer.
Hives can occur in response to an allergic reaction. (Read about "Allergies") An allergic reaction involves your immune system, reacting to a substance that normally doesn't cause a reaction. (Read about "The Immune System") Some examples of things that can trigger acute hives include:
Because acute hives occur in response to specific things, you can avoid acute hives by avoiding the things that trigger them. Chronic hives, however, occur for extended periods of time, often without an easily eliminated cause. For chronic hives, treatment usually revolves around making the person feel more comfortable, until the hives clear on their own.
Treatment options for hives can include antihistamines, either prescription or over-the-counter. Antihistamines counter the effects of histamine, which is released by the mast cells in the body's tissues and contributes to allergy symptoms. Because of how they work, antihistamines help to relieve the itching symptoms. Many antihistamines can produce drowsiness. There are also less sedating antihistamines, but the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) says some of these can have serious side effects, particularly if they are taken with certain other drugs, so always discuss this with your doctor. In some cases, corticosteroids may be needed to reduce swelling, redness and itching. You may also get some relief by using gentle soaps and non-irritating moisturizers. (Read about "Skin Care")
If you are experiencing a skin reaction because of coming in contact with something, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says it can help to wash the exposed area with cold running water. AAD says over-the-counter preparations such as calamine lotion can make skin reactions less uncomfortable, as can soaking in a lukewarm bath with an oatmeal or baking soda solution. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) says cold compresses can also help reduce the itch, which is important because scratching and rubbing will only make things worse.
If hives do not go away, or if they keep coming back, you should see your doctor. For severe hives, emergency care may be necessary. If hives are accompanied by swelling on the eyelids, tongue and mouth, it can be very dangerous since this can make it difficult to breathe and swallow. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that requires immediate medical treatment. (Read about "Anaphylaxis")
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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