What is Urticaria (Hives)?
Hives, medically known as urticaria, is a skin condition characterized by pale red, itchy, and raised welts on skin. The raised welts vary in size and shape and cause itching. In addition to being extremely itchy, hives can often burn or sting. They are the kind of skin surface swelling that can be triggered due to various factors such as allergic reactions, stress, medications, and infections. The swelling on the skin surface is commonly known as angioedema. Hives can happen to people of any age and on any part of the body. Hives can sometimes merge to form larger areas called plaques. In most cases they are harmless and typically go away within a day or two.
Also Read: Urticaria Multiforme: A Benign Rash
Causes of Hives
- Allergic Reaction: Hives may occur when an allergen comes into contact with your immune system and triggers an allergic reaction. As a result of an allergic reaction, the body initiates the release of histamines into the bloodstream. Histamines are natural chemicals produced by your body to fight against infections and external invaders. The action of histamine can provoke symptoms such as swelling, itching, and other sensations commonly associated with hives. The common allergens that can cause hives include food, medication, insect stings, pet dander, and pollen.
- Infections: Bacterial or viral infections can trigger hives.
- Physical Factors: Exposure to extreme heat, cold, or sunlight can induce or flare-up hives in many people.
- Stress: Emotional stress can contribute to the development of hives or cause flare-up
- Physical Abrasion: People suffering from hives have very sensitive skin and scratching or rubbing it due to itch can aggravate the hives.
Types of Hives
Hives can be characterized into various types based on their characteristics:
- Acute Hives: It is a condition that is prompted by allergic reactions. It can be instigated by various allergens to which an individual may be sensitive to, such as food, medication, and insect bites. Viral or bacterial infections are additional factors that may contribute to the development of hives. Acute hives are characterized by their transient nature, occurring for a brief duration and typically lasting for less than 6 weeks.
The only concerning aspect about acute hives is anaphylaxis because apart from widespread skin reactions it also includes respiratory distress, including difficulty breathing and wheezing, along with gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention and intervention, as it can progress rapidly and lead to a critical condition if left untreated.
- Chronic Hives: A long-lasting skin condition that sticks around for more than six weeks, creating a challenge for those affected. The causes of chronic hives are diverse and can include autoimmune factors in which the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues.
- Physical Hives: This category of hives includes those that are induced by physical factors such as pressure, temperature (cold or heat), sunlight, or exercise. They are further categorized into distinct types based on their specific inducers.
- Cholinergic Hives: Hives that occur in response to an increase in body temperature, often triggered by stress, exercise, or hot showers.
- Cold Hives: Hives that occur in response to exposure to cold temperatures.
- Pressure Hives: Pressure hives, also known as delayed pressure urticaria, develop in response to pressure or friction. Sitting, wearing tight clothing, or even leaning against an object can lead to the development of Pressure Hives.
- Aquagenic Hives: Hives that develop after being in contact with water, regardless of their temperature.
- Solar Hives: Hives that develop due to exposure to sunlight.
Symptoms of Hives
Hives exhibit a number of symptoms that can vary in intensity, size, shape and color based on their type. Common symptoms of hives include:
- Raised Red Welts: These raised welts can vary in size.
- Itching: Individual suffering from hives may experience a strong urge to scratch the affected areas.
- Swelling: It may occur in areas like the eyes, lips, hands, or feet.
- Burning or Stinging Sensations: Some people with hives may experience sensations of burning or stinging in the affected areas, adding to the discomfort.
How to Diagnose Hives?
Diagnosing hives typically involves a thorough examination of the patient’s medical history, a physical examination of the skin, and in some cases, specific tests to identify the triggers.
- Medical History: The healthcare provider will inquire about the patient’s symptoms, including when the hives first appeared, the duration of symptoms, and any potential triggers or patterns.
- Physical Examination: A physical examination will be conducted to assess the appearance and distribution of hives on the skin.
- Allergy Testing: Allergy testing may be recommended to identify specific allergens that could be triggering the hives. This can include skin prick tests or scratch tests in which different allergens are applied to your skin. If redness or swelling occurs, it indicates an allergic reaction to that substance.
- Blood Tests: A blood test assesses specific antibodies in your blood, which your body produces to combat allergens.
Treatment of Hives
The treatment of hives involves various approaches to alleviate symptoms. Some common treatment options include:
- Allergy Medications: Allergy medications involve prescribing antihistamines in either oral or topical form. These medications block the effects of histamine, providing relief from itching and reducing allergic reactions.
- Allergy Shots: For persistent chronic hives that are challenging to manage, healthcare providers may discuss monthly injections of drugs that block allergic reactions.
- Corticosteroids: In severe cases when antihistamines are not effective, a short course of oral or topical corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and symptoms.
- Epinephrine: Severe acute allergic reactions, leading to a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis, may require immediate administration of epinephrine. This injection helps open a swollen airway and is crucial for individuals experiencing symptoms like hives, facial swelling, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and vomiting.
Management of Hives
Some self-care measure to reduce the symptoms and likelihood of recurrence include:
- Taking cool showers
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes
- Applying cold compresses
- Identifying and avoiding specific triggers such as certain foods, medications, or environmental factors
- Applying sunblock
In conclusion, hives, or urticaria, is a common skin condition characterized by itchy, raised welts that can be triggered by various factors. These triggers include allergens, stress, temperature changes, and pressure. Hives can be acute, lasting for a short period, or chronic, persisting for more than six weeks. Identifying and avoiding specific triggers, employing antihistamines, and practicing at-home care, such as cool compresses and loose-fitting clothing, can help manage symptoms. In severe cases or during anaphylactic reactions, emergency epinephrine may be necessary. Seeking guidance from a healthcare provider is crucial for accurate diagnosis, understanding individual triggers, and developing an effective treatment and prevention plan.
Multiple clinical research organizations in the United States understand the profound significance of skin health for individuals. Ongoing clinical research and trials near you can help us in striving forward and deepen our understanding of hives, explore innovative therapeutic approaches, and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.
Also Read: What is The Genius Pill?