Skin Conditions & Treatment for Hives
Hives, formally known as urticaria, is a common disorder characterized by the formation of raised, red welts on the surface of your skin, as well as skin itching and swelling. Frequently, the specific skin conditions associated with the disorder change rapidly. Treatments for hives range from self-care options for minor cases to emergency medical intervention for severe cases.
Hives typically form when your body releases a compound called histamine in response to the presence of irritating foreign substances, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Common sources of these substances include insect bites, viral infections and foods such as eggs, shellfish, nuts, tomatoes, chocolate and milk. You may also develop hives after using a wide variety of prescription and nonprescription medications, including laxatives, antacids, tranquilizers, diuretics, antibiotics, sedatives, herbal supplements, vitamins and painkillers. In some cases, you may develop hives in response to emotional stress, or to physical factors such as sun exposure, skin pressure and exposure to heat, cold or water.
Hives can arise quickly on a given part of your body and then disappear in a matter of minutes or hours, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine's Medline Plus. They may also reappear elsewhere, grow in size, change shape, spread over large areas of your body or join together from separate patches of skin. In some instances, hives are a short-term occurrence, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. In other instances, you may develop a chronic case of hives that lingers for weeks or months. You may also develop an internal swelling, called angioedema, in your lips, tongue, eyelids, feet, hands or genitals.
In severe cases of hives, you may develop a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, Medline Plus notes. When this reaction occurs, histamine and other substances released throughout your body dangerously constrict your airways and produce additional symptoms that may include lightheadedness, confusion or cardiac arrest. Severe cases of angioedema can also trigger constriction of your throat and associated breathing difficulties, the Merck Manuals report.
Nonchronic cases of hives may disappear without treatment in a period ranging from minutes to days, the Merck Manuals note. If you have mild angioedema or hives, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines to relieve your associated symptoms. If you have severe symptoms that do not respond to other treatments, your doctor may also prescribe use of oral corticosteroids. In roughly 50 percent of cases, chronic hives disappear on their own within two years, the Merck Manuals explain. If you require treatment, your doctor may prescribe doxepin, an antidepressant medication with strong antihistamine properties.
The presence of anaphylaxis constitutes a medical emergency, Medline Plus notes. To help reduce an anaphylactic reaction, emergency personnel may give you an injection of epinephrine, also known as adrenalin. You may also receive CPR, intravenous fluids or a tracheotomy. Severe breathing difficulties related to angioedema also require emergency treatment with epinephrine or antihistamine tablets, according to the Merck Manuals.
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