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What Are the Treatments for Hives in Adults?

What Are the Treatments for Hives in Adults?

Hives, medically known as urticaria, are raised, reddened, itchy welts that blanch, or turn white, in the center when pressed. Hives appear and disappear suddenly, and can occur as a result of allergic reaction or, in susceptible people, from cold or sun exposure or physical exertion. More than 20 percent of people have had an outbreak of hives at some point in their lives, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports. While hives usually aren't serious, they can occur with a more serious reaction called angioedema, a deeper swelling. Treatment of hives in adults depends on the severity and cause.


The body releases histamine as part of the immune response, which causes itching and swelling of the skin seen in adults with hives. Drugs called antihistamines decrease the histamine response, reducing symptoms. Antihistamines should be taken if more than a few hives develop, especially if they seem to be spreading. Diphenhydramine, commercially available as Benadryl, is sold over the counter and is considered to be the most effective antihistamine, MedlinePlus states. Diphenhydramine can cause drowsiness; adults taking this medication should not drive. Rantidine, sold as Zantac, may also help. Doctors may try a combination of several antihistamines to treat hives, the University of Oregon notes.


In cases of severe hives, or angioedema, in adults, swelling of the deeper tissues such as the throat can make breathing difficult and, in rare cases, lead to life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis, explains MedlinePlus. Anaphylaxis causes a whole body reaction that leads to collapse and possible death. If angioedema or anaphylaxis occur, epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is injected to decrease the swelling. Epinephrine is the drug found in EpiPens, prefilled syringes that adults with a history of severe allergies should carry with them at all times. Medical follow-up is required after using epinephrine to treat hives.


Steroids reduce the immune response to allergic substances that can set off an attack of hives in adults. Medical personnel may prescribe a short course of oral steroids along with antihistamines to treat hives. Steroids can also be injected in severe cases of hives. Oral or injected steroids are given for the shortest time possible to reduce symptoms, the University of Oregon warns, since long-term steroid use can cause a number of undesirable effects in adults, including bone loss, diabetes and increased susceptibility to infection. Steroid creams available over the counter may reduce the itching and discomfort of hives.

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