Hives — also known as urticaria (ur-tih-KAR-e-uh) — is a skin reaction that causes itchy welts, which range in size from small spots to large blotches. Hives can be triggered by many situations and substances, including exposure to certain foods or medications.
Angioedema can arise with hives or alone, causing swelling in the deeper layers of your skin, often around your face and lips. Hives and angioedema are common. Most times, they are harmless, clear up within in a day and don't leave any lasting marks, even without treatment.
Hives and angioedema are usually treated with antihistamine medication. Angioedema can be life-threatening if swelling causes your throat or tongue to block your airway.
Hives may be accompanied by angioedema, which causes red, swollen welts.
Hives, also known as urticaria, are reddened, itchy welts that may be triggered by exposure to certain foods, medications or other substances.
The welts associated with hives can be:
Most hives appear quickly and go away within 24 hours. Chronic hives can last for months or years.
Angioedema is a reaction similar to hives that affects deeper layers of your skin. It can appear with hives or alone. Signs and symptoms include:
You can usually treat mild cases of hives or angioedema at home. See your doctor if your symptoms continue for more than a few days.
If you think your hives or angioedema were caused by a known allergy to food or a medication, your symptoms may be an early sign of an anaphylactic reaction. Seek emergency care if you feel your tongue, lips, mouth or throat is swelling or if you're having trouble breathing.
Angioedema may cause large welts below the surface of the skin, particularly on the eyes and lips. Angioedema may also affect the hands, feet and throat.
Hives and angioedema can be caused by:
Oftentimes, no specific cause can be identified, especially in the case of chronic hives.
Hives and angioedema are common. You may be at increased risk of hives and angioedema if you:
Severe angioedema can be life-threatening if swelling causes your throat or tongue to block your airway.
To lower your likelihood of experiencing hives or angioedema, take the following precautions:
Your doctor will examine any welts or areas of swelling and take a careful medical history to identify possible causes of your signs and symptoms. In some cases, you may be asked to undergo a skin-prick allergy test or other tests.
If your symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment. Hives and angioedema often clear up on their own. But treatment can offer relief for intense itching, serious discomfort or symptoms that persist.
Treatments for hives and angioedema may include prescription drugs, including:
For a severe attack of hives or angioedema, you may need a trip to the emergency room and an emergency injection of epinephrine — a type of adrenaline. If you have had a serious attack or your attacks recur, despite treatment, your doctor may have you carry a pen-like device that will allow you to self-inject epinephrine in emergencies.
If you're experiencing mild hives or angioedema, these tips may help relieve your symptoms:
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. In some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a skin disease specialist (dermatologist) or to an allergy specialist.
Here are some tips to help you get ready for your appointment.
For hives and angioedema, questions you may want to ask include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as: