Hives Q&A

What is urticaria?

Urticaria is another word for hives, raised patches of skin that develop as a result of an allergic reaction in the skin. Hives develop when the immune system overreacts or reacts abnormally to a trigger, resulting in an allergic reaction that causes hives to form. Hives can occur singly, but most often they occur in groups called plaques. Often, hives are accompanied by itching or sometimes stinging sensations.

What is angioedema?

Angioedema is a term used to describe hives that form under the skin, causing swelling which can often be significant. Angioedema can occur in many areas, including the eyes, mouth, throat and groin. When angioedema occurs in the eyes, the lids may become swollen shut, interfering with the ability to see. When it occurs in the throat and mouth, angioedema can interfere with swallowing and even breathing. People with angioedema often carry autoinjector pens so they can self-administer epinephrine to reduce swelling and prevent potentially life-threatening reactions.

How are hives and angioedema treated?

Both urticaria and angioedema can be treated with oral antihistamines to help reduce inflammation, swelling and itching. Topical medications may also be used, especially with hives, to help reduce swelling and itching. When hives are mild, applying cool compresses to the affected area can also help reduce itching. In most cases, hives will disappear within several hours as long as the allergen that caused the reaction is avoided. Sometimes, though, hives or angioedema can last much longer.

How can I tell if my hives need medical attention?

Although mild hives often can be managed at home, any type of hives – even mild cases – should be evaluated by a doctor to help identify the cause. Some hives can be caused by serious underlying diseases, and in some cases, mild cases of hives can quickly become much more serious, even causing swelling to occur in the throat and mouth.