The Many Faces of Hives

March 25, 2020

An outbreak of inflammations – swollen or smooth, red or pale – of any size from pencil eraser to dinner plate – appearing practically anywhere on the skin from face to body, even lips or ears or throat – and emerging from a host of possible causes, from stress to allergies, from insects to infections – it is no wonder that hives are a source of confusion as well as suffering. An outbreak of urticaria, the medical term for hives, causes discomfort on many levels, with pain and itching being just the most tangible.

“Where did this come from, and what can I do about it?” The answers are not easy to come by, and professional help is the first step to finding them.

At the bottom of it all, hives appear from the body’s response to histamines released from specialized cells arranged along the blood vessels of the skin. Those small blood vessels release plasma in response to those histamines, and that is when the bumps and plaques of hives form. That’s what outbreaks have in common, but from there the story gets almost too complicated to tell. The chemicals in certain foods including chocolate, insect stings, medications, or even just sunlight exposure can prompt the chain reaction that results in hives.

How to Have Your Way with Hives

Treatments for an outbreak of hives range from personal to professional, from home remedies to medical therapies – not surprising, given the host of possible causes and the varied nature of hives appearances. Often an outbreak lasts less than 24 hours, but if hives stay much longer, or reappear, then most folks want to seek a professional diagnosis and a solution they can depend on.

Because heat makes itching worse, home remedies center on cooling down the skin, whether with cold compresses, or cool baths with an anti-irritant such as colloidal oatmeal or baking soda. Lightweight clothing, a visit to the thermostat, and avoiding direct sunlight are steps along these lines for a cooling solution to hives. Over-the-counter remedies such as calamine lotion or the oral antihistamine Benadryl can reduce the rash and itching.

If symptoms last more than a day or two, or if they worsen, you should see a board-certified dermatologist. With your doctor’s prescription, the corticosteroid Prednisone can be effective if used for only short terms, provided your doctor finds it safe for you. Other medications are available depending on what your doctor determines the cause to be.

Another good reason to seek a dermatologist’s advice about hives is that they are often confused with angioedema, a swelling of the tissue beneath the skin’s surface. While angioedema can appear similar to hives, it often arises from different causes, lasts longer, and calls for a different course of treatment.

There are steps you can take to relieve an outbreak of hives, and we can help you find them. Just contact one of our three locations.

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