Hives and Swelling
What is Hives?
Hives (also known as urticaria) are a widespread skin condition that can be incited by many substances or situations. They manifest as red, raised, itchy welts of varying sizes on the skin’s surface, often resembling a nettle sting rash.
Angioedema is the medical term used to describe swelling. This can occur anywhere but is usually obvious when the swelling involves the face, ears, hands, feet, or scrotum.
Typical symptoms of Hives:
- Red or skin-coloured welts (weals): These can emerge anywhere on the body and vary in size, from a few millimetres to several inches in diameter (known as giant hives). They can merge together, forming larger patches known as plaques.
- Itching: This is the most common symptom of hives and can be severe. The intensity of the itch varies from person to person and from one instance of hives to the next.
- Swelling: Hives often induce swelling on the skin’s surface. This is called superficial swelling. In some cases, deeper swelling (angioedema) can occur, often affecting the eyelids, lips, hands, feet, genitals, or the inside of the throat.
- Changes in appearance: Individual hives often alter in size and shape, and may come and go within a 24-hour period. Hives can be round, or they can form rings or large patches that can expand and join together.
- Warmth: The skin over a hive can feel warm to the touch.
- Temporary: Hives usually fade within a day, although new ones may form. A single hive generally lasts for less than 24 hours.
Causes of Hives & Swelling
Whenever hives (urticaria) and/or swelling (angioedema) is present, many people assume it is caused by an allergy as the same chemicals are released as in an allergic reaction and the signs, i.e. hives and swelling, are the same as those which occur in an allergic reaction.
If there is an allergic trigger, this is usually very obvious and clear patterns are seen. For example, if someone has a peanut allergy, every time they eat peanuts, they quickly may develop urticaria and angioedema but it also resolves quickly, within an hour or two.
If there are no patterns as to when the urticaria and angioedema are occurring, then an allergic trigger is unlikely, especially if the symptoms last for days or weeks.
If you need on advice on hives and swelling, and what might be causing it, speak to Dr Helen Allergy today.
Causes of Hives & Swelling
Infections are a common cause of hives and swelling
Viral illnesses are often implicated in the cause of urticaria and angioedema. This is most likely the case if the person is unwell at the time and if the hives and swelling only last for a few days or weeks.
If the symptoms last for longer than six weeks, and there are no common patterns, this is named Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria. This is an extremely common condition and frustratingly, the full cause of this is unknown although it is thought to be an autoimmune condition in around 50%.
Is there a cure for Hives?
It can be triggered by a number of factors
Whilst the underlying cause for Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria is not known, it can be triggered for some patients by a variety of factors. These include:
- Water pressure
Symptoms of urticaria and angioedema can usually be controlled with appropriate doses of long-acting antihistamines. When this is not effective, there are other oral medications that can be used.
If an individual has uncontrolled urticaria or is having episodes of spontaneous anaphylaxis, specialist treatment using an injectable medication called Omalizumab may be needed. This medication would be initiated by specialist allergy centres.