Hives (urticaria) is an outbreak of swollen, red bumps or wheals on the skin that appear suddenly and leave no trace when they disappear.  Crops of  Hives may appear several times a day.  Hives usually cause itching but may also burn or sting.  They can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, lips, tongue, throat or ears. Hives vary in size and may join together to form larger areas known as plaques.  Hives are harmless except when they cause throat swelling, which is rare but requires immediate treatment.  Angioedema is a hive-like swelling of the lips, eyes or other tissue.

Acute hives last less than six weeks. The most common causes are foods (such as nuts, strawberries, chocolate, shellfish, tomatoes, blue cheese, eggs and milk), medicines (penicillin, aspirin or codeine, etc.), infections (infectious mononucleosis, urinary tract infections, colds, infected teeth or sinuses) or insect bites and internal disease (such as an overactive thyroid). Chronic Hives last more than six weeks and 87% of people with chronic urticaria have an unknown cause. Occasionally physical agents such as pressure, heat, sunlight, exercise or cold may cause Hives.

Treatment Options:

Hives are best treated by removing the inducers.  All drugs not critically important to health, including aspirin and vitamins, should be stopped, even if you have taken them safely for years.  Contact your physician before discontinuing use of medications for heart conditions, epilepsy and the like. Foods are more difficult to incriminate.  Usually Hives will appear within 8 hours of eating something and will then disappear and not reappear unless the same food is eaten again. Daily diary of foods and activities may be helpful to pinpoint the reactor.  Hives often go away on their own or are treated with antihistamines.  If hives do not respond completely to antihistamines then it may be necessary to use cortisone to control the eruption/itching.

Things you can do to obtain relief from the itching of Hives:

Avoid hot baths, heavy physical exertion and becoming overheated especially near bedtime.  You should not use an electric blanket or extremely heavy cover.  If you stay relatively cool, the Hives will often be less uncomfortable.
Avoid wearing tightly fitted clothes or clothes made from rough fabrics such as wool or coarse knits; as these may often worsen the itching of Hives. Clothes worn next tothe skin should be soft and smooth.
Pat dry after bathing or showering. Vigorous rubbing of the skin, such as toweling off after a bath should be avoided.
Keep skin moisturized, as dryness of the skin often worsens Hives. It is almost always helpful to moisturize the skin frequently, since this decreases the amount of friction between your skin and your clothing.
Avoid aspirin and all combination medicines which contain it.  These drugs almost always make Hives worse.  It is not always obvious which medications contain aspirin. You should carefully read the labels for all non-prescription medications you use.
Eliminate use of alcoholic beverages since like aspirin, alcohol is a histamine releasing chemical and often worsens Hives.
Apply ice packs to control itching in specific areas. Quite often vigorous scratching will cause the skin to welt and itch even more.  Application of cold will often relieve the itching so that vigorous scratching will not be necessary.
Apply an anti-itch lotion which will help to reduce the itching you experience, as often as you need it.
Use the antihistamine-type medications prescribed to you with great regularity during the treatment period to produce maximum control of Hives. It is usually not sufficient to take these medications only when the Hives are present. They should be taken continuously according to the direction on the prescription, in order to maintain a constant high blood and tissue level. You should know that most antihistamines can cause some drowsiness as a side-effect and you should be very careful if you drive or are involved in other activities which demand a high level of attention.

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