Hives medically known as urticaria. Hives are raised, often itchy, red welts on the surface of the skin. Hives can occur anywhere on the body, such as the trunk, arms, and legs. Urticaria is a common condition that can affect any person of any race at any age in any season of the year. It occurs in up to 20% of the population at one time or another. Hives can occur on any skin surface, but usually spare the palms and soles of the feet. Hives are classified as acute or chronic depending on the length of the episode. Swelling deeper in the skin that may accompany hives is called angioedema. This may be seen on the hands and feet as well as on mucous membranes. Hives are produced by histamine and other compounds released from cells called mast cells.
Histamine causes fluid to leak from the local blood vessels leading to swelling in the skin. Hives result from dilation of capillaries allowing fluid to leak out into the surrounding tissue, the epidermis. Hives are a common reaction, especially in people with other allergies like hay fever. Some hives are caused by allergies to such things as foods and medications, but the large majority of cases are not allergic, and no specific cause for them is ever found. Although this is frustrating to patients, such common maneuvers as changing diet, soap, detergent, and makeup are usually not helpful in preventing hives and for the most part are not necessary.
Hives are itchy because the swelling occurs in the epidermis, which has many nerve endings.
Ordinary hives may be widespread and disturbing to look at, but the vast majority of cases do not lead to life-threatening complications. Urticarial disease is thought to be caused by the release of histamine and other mediators of inflammation (cytokines) from cells in the skin. Symptoms of hives is swelling of the external of the skin into red- or skin-colored welts with clearly defined edges. They flare, itch, swell, and go away in a matter of minutes to hours, only to appear elsewhere. This sequence may go on from days to weeks. Most hive episodes last less than six weeks. Don’t wear tight-fitting clothing and avoid hot baths or showers just after an episode of hives. Avoid exposure to substances that give you allergic reactions.
Hives Treatment and Prevention Tips
1. Avoid exposure to substances that give you allergic reactions.
2. Antihistamines, which help oppose the effects of the histamine leaked by mast cells.
3. Oral steroids (prednisone, Medrol) can help severe cases of hives in the short-term.
4. Don’t wear tight-fitting clothing and avoid hot baths or showers just after an episode of hives.
5. Topical therapies for hives include creams and lotions which help numb nerve endings and reduce itching.