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Hives are a skin condition that is medically known as urticaria. The typical symptoms of hives are red and swollen welts on the skin. Itchiness usually precedes an outbreak of hives, and the welts often remain itchy while present. The welts can vary in size from tiny to very large, and sometimes the hives can grow together to appear even larger.

Most hives last less than 24 hours and go away on their own. If they last for six weeks or less, then they are known as acute hives. Chronic hives are those that last for six weeks or longer.

Causes of Hives

The primary cause of hives is an allergic reaction, but they can occur for other reasons, as well. The most common allergic stimulants, or allergens, that cause hives include food sources like peanuts, eggs and shellfish; insect bites and stings; and certain medications. Some people also get hives as a symptom of an infection like strep throat, the common cold and others.

When chronic hives are present, the causes are sometimes a bit different. Some people develop chronic hives due to constant rubbing, scratching or pressure on the skin, such as a tight belt around the waistline. Some people also develop chronic hives because of changes in temperature or from sun exposure.


The best approach for treating hives is to identify the offending trigger, such as certain foods or medications, and avoid it as best as possible. Some of the forms of chronic hives can also be managed by covering up in the sun, for example, or wearing more comfortable clothing that fits more loosely. Most allergy-based hives can also be treated and prevented with the use of an allergy medication such as an antihistamine. Severe cases of hives may require more serious medications such as corticosteroids or an immune modulator to bring the symptoms back under control.

SOURCES: American Academy of Dermatology; American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

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