Don't scratch that itch! Learn about hives

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Hives are very common. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of people will experience hives at least once in their lives.

The most common complaint is the itching, which might also feel like burning or stinging. In most cases, hives and angioedema are harmless and don't leave any lasting marks.

Q: What are hives?

A: Hives are red, bumpy, and very itchy rashes that can arise anywhere on the body.

Q: What is angioedema?

A: Angioedema is a form of hives that develops in the deeper tissues, causing significant swelling. This occurs most commonly on the face.

Rapidly developing angioedema is considered a medical emergency. It can be life-threatening if the swelling causes your throat or tongue to block your airway, leading to loss of consciousness.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Signs and symptoms of hives include:

  • Raised red or white welts (wheals, or swellings) of various sizes that can cover large areas of skin
  • Welts that resolve while new welts erupt, making it seem as if the condition "moves"
  • Itching, which might be severe
  • Rarely, burning or stinging

Q: Is it true hives can move to other parts of the body?

A: Yes, hives have a tendency to migrate around the body. An area of redness or itching might last just a few hours in one spot before fading away and developing somewhere else.

Q: Are all hives the same?

A: Actually, no! There are different categories of hives.

Acute hives are categorized as "acute" if it lasts less than six weeks. This type of hives is usually caused by an allergic reaction or viral infection.

Chronic hives lasts more than six weeks and is less likely to be due to an allergy. They might be caused by stress, autoimmune disorders, hormonal changes or some other systemic problem. Certain types of hives develop in response to being hot and sweaty. This can follow exposure to sunlight, exercise, hot baths, blushing or episodes of anger.

Dermatographism is a form of localized hives that develops in the area where the skin is scratched, and is quite common.

Q: I've experienced hives. They go away, but then reappear. What triggers this?

A: Acute hives goes away after a few days or week, but might return again after exposure to the allergic trigger. Common triggers of hives include foods (peanuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs and milk), insect stings and medications (penicillin, sulfa drugs).

Q: What is the treatment for hives?

A: When the cause of hives is known, the most important step is to eliminate the trigger.

When the cause is unknown, medications - such as antihistamines - can provide relieve from the symptoms.

You should consult a physician if your hives outbreak does not respond to treatment, if you experience severe discomfort, or if your symptoms continue for more than a few days.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.

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