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When It's Your Skin Against the World: Hives

When It's Your Skin Against the World: Hives

What are hives?
What causes hives?
How can I keep from getting hives?
If I get hives, what can I do about them?
What if my hives won't go away?

What are hives?
Hives are red, puffy bumps that pop out on your skin. They usually itch, burn, or sting. Hives can happen anywhere on your body and can range from pinhead-sized to as big as dinner plates. Doctors call hives urticaria and call the bumps on your skin wheals. One in five people gets hives at least once. back to top

What causes hives?
When something irritates your skin, breaking out in bumps is one way your body defends itself. This type of allergic reaction can be caused by jewelry, clothing, perfume, soap, shampoo, sunlight—nearly anything that touches your skin. In these cases, the hives usually appear only on the spot of skin that was touched by the irritant. Hives can also be caused by heat, cold, stress, or physical exercise.

Hives can also be caused by things you put in your body. A reaction to a medication or a food, for example, can cause hives all over your body. Usually, you get hives within a few minutes of eating or taking a medication. But it can take much longer, especially when it is the first time you are exposed to the thing that causes you to get hives. You react much faster after repeated exposures. Common foods that cause hives are nuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs, berries, soy, wheat, and milk. Common medications that cause hives are aspirin, ibuprofen, blood-pressure medicines, painkillers, and some antibiotic drugs.

If you think a medication caused your hives, stop taking the medication and call your health professional right away. The hives could be a symptom of a more serious allergic reaction. Hives can be caused by drugs that are prescribed by a doctor or by drugs you buy yourself at the drugstore.

Sometimes it's easy to pinpoint the cause of hives, but in most cases the cause isn't clear. back to top

How can I keep from getting hives?
If you've had hives a couple of times, make a note of when you got them. Did you break out after eating shellfish, for example? Or after dusting your room with furniture polish? Or after taking medication? Perhaps you get hives every time you go to the beach and stay in the sun, or every time your hair stylist uses that special strawberry conditioner on your hair. These things are called "triggers," because they trigger your body to produce an allergic reaction. The best thing you can do to keep from getting hives is to avoid those triggers. back to top

If I get hives, what can I do about them?
Hives usually go away on their own within a few days to a few weeks (especially if you can avoid whatever was causing them). If you get hives, taking one of the over-the-counter antihistamines (like Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton) will help them go away and be less itchy. But beware: These medicines can make you sleepy.

Hives are different from a skin reaction like the rash you might get from touching poison ivy. While that type of rash involves just your skin, hives involves your entire immune system. That's why you have to take a pill to get rid of hives, rather than just putting cream or lotion on your skin. back to top

What if my hives won't go away?
In some people, hives last for weeks and weeks, or keep coming back every few weeks. If hives last for more than six weeks, they are considered chronic (long-lasting). Long-lasting hives are very unusual, but they do happen.

If your hives don't go away in a few weeks, see a health professional. A doctor or nurse practitioner can prescribe strong antihistamines and other medications to help keep the hives under control and stop the itching. back to top

Last Modified Date: 9/20/2000
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