An introduction to hives
Hives, otherwise known as urticara or welts, are an itchy rash that appears on your skin, usually after coming into contact with an allergen or irritant. Hives can change rapidly but they are not a serious skin problem, with most cases diminishing after a day or two.
Acute hives is the milder variant of hives and is classified as an outbreak that lasts less than six weeks. Chronic hives, on the other hand, is considerably rarer and will usually only affect 1 in every 200.
Hives are sometimes misdiagnosed as angioedema, a much more serious condition where inflammation occurs beneath the epidermal layer of skin and can even manifest around the eyes and tongue, sometimes causing severe breathing issues that can even be classed as life threatening.1
Around 20% of the UK is affected by acute hives, with the most common sufferers being children and women over the age of 30.2
Typically, in most instances of acute hives, symptoms will not persist beyond 6 weeks, and rarely last more than 48 hours. Usually, acute hives are triggered as a result of an allergic reaction or irritation, such as UV radiation, insect bites, certain foods, or abrasive chemicals.
The symptoms tend to manifest quite quickly but are not as serious as those found in other variants. Your doctor will not likely prescribe any strong medication for these outbreaks, although there are a number of home and herbal remedies available to ease your hive symptoms.
Chronic hives are considerably more persistent and the symptoms are noticeably more intense, with some episodes of chronic hives even being drawn out of the course of years.
Although symptoms can flare-up and recede, chronic hives are usually caused by a weakness in the immune system and often occur alongside autoimmune conditions.
However, sometimes the H. pylori strain of bacteria is responsible and outbreaks can diminish once the bacterial infections are dealt with.
In some rare cases of chronic hives, angioedema can occur, usually as a result of blood plasma seeping out of the blood vessels and into the subcutaneous tissues below the dermis, stimulating inflammation and irritation.
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An episode of hives is sometimes misdiagnosed as a case of angioedema.
While the two conditions share a lot of the same features, symptoms and causes, angioedema affects the subcutaneous tissues under the dermis, upsetting the mucous membranes found in that part of the skin. The affliction can manifest around the eyelids and lips, even affecting the intestinal lining of your digestive tract.3
When you suffer from an extreme allergic reaction, angioedema can sometimes make it difficult for you to breath, as your throat and tongue become inflamed. This is why the condition is treated quite seriously if you suffer from certain allergies.
Whereas some variants of hives can be triggered by internal factors, such as the immune system or your genetics, physical hives, as their name may suggest, rely on a physical stimulant.
These triggers can range from traditional irritants, like stinging nettles or UV radiation, to low humidity, exercise, sustained pressure and stress.
Symptoms tend to manifest quickly but are not usually prolonged unless you have repeated contact with the offending stimulant. However, sometimes the cause can be unknown and such hives are referred to as idiopathic, meaning ‘unknown.4’
The causes of hives
There are a number of different variants to take into account when considering the cause of hives. The triggers are so numerous and some have not even been identified yet. Below are a few of the more common stimulants and exaggerators, which you can read more about on our page dedicated to the causes of hives.
- Weak immune system
- Exposure to irritants
- H. pylori bacteria
The symptoms of hives
Hives can come in many shapes and forms, but broadly speaking most subtypes share many of the same symptoms, with different levels of intensity.
The rash that appears alongside the condition is usually the first symptom to arise, with wheals normally appearing thereafter, alongside itchiness and inflammation.
In some more serious episodes of the condition, there can be some burning and the swelling can be more pronounced. If you want to read more about the symptoms of hives, please check out our symptoms page.
The treatment of hives
There are a variety of different treatments available when it comes to easing the symptoms of your hives outbreak. Most conventional remedies rely on medicines such as over the counter anti-histamines or steroid tablets.
These medications can be effective but normally include a range of unpleasant side-effects.
However, there are natural, lifestyle and herbal solutions that may not encourage these side-effects and can be just as efficient at relieving your symptoms. Please check out our treatments page for further information.