Urticaria (hives)


Urticaria or Hives are itchy weal like swellings on the surface of the skin ranging from size of pinhead to that of a dinner plate.

The term urticaria comes from the Latin urtica, meaning “nettle”. Urticaria is commonly known as hives, which are inflamed and often itchy lumps or welts on the surface of the skin. Hives can be small lumps, like mosquito bites, or large welts that spread over the body. They cause mild to severe itching, tingling or burning.

Around 10% of us will develop hives at some time in our lives. Most outbreaks are mild, harmless and clear up within a matter of hours. Some, however, can be severe and lead to swelling of the eyes, nose, lips, tongue and throat.

This is known as angioedema, and can cause difficulty breathing. In this case, urgent medical care is required. Around one-third of people developing hives will also develop angioedema. Swelling from angioedema may take several days to subside.

Causes

Although most cases of hives are not caused by allergy, more severe or frequent outbreaks may indicate an allergic reaction. This may be caused by:

  • insect bites and stings
  • contact with plants, such as nettles (hence the name “urticaria”)
  • contact with animals
  • certain foods
  • certain medications
  • post-viral infection
  • autoimmunity (the body attacking itself)

Treatment

Once the allergen has been correctly identified, allergic hives can be effectively managed and treated in a number of ways. Depending on the allergen, severity and frequency, treatment options include:

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