While not everyone will experience a hives outbreak in their lifetime, many people will have this skin condition at least once. And for some, hives are a regularly occurring episode in their lives. Here’s how to figure out what’s causing your hives rash and when it may be time to see a doctor.
Hives (also known as urticaria, welts, or wheals) are raised, itchy, red bumps on the skin. This skin rash can occur in everyone -- from infants to the elderly -- and can present as a one-time episode or on an ongoing basis. Hives on skin can show up as just one lone red bump or as a patch of many raised red bumps. The rash can appear virtually anywhere, but it most commonly manifests on the face, neck, chest, stomach, back, or arms. Especially in cases of allergic reactions, hives can also appear on the tongue and in the throat.
Unfortunately, in about half of all hives cases, the trigger is unknown. While this might be okay in a fleeting case of hives, it can be frustrating to not know what’s causing the rash if you repeatedly break out in hives. The rash can be caused by a host of triggers, including medications, allergic reactions, and infections.
Certain foods, ingredients in personal care products, irritants in detergents or cleaning solutions, insect bites and stings, and even exposure to plants and the sun can all cause hives. Therefore, it’s difficult to pinpoint a trigger without the help of a dermatologist or allergist, who can test the skin for allergens.
If you experience an outbreak of hives, it’s a good idea to apply a cold compress as soon as possible. This can be a cold washcloth or an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel. Additionally, taking a bath with colloidal oatmeal or baking soda can help relieve the itch of the hives rash, especially if it has spread over the body. These home remedies can help soothe the hives outbreak in the short term.
Longer-term hives treatment options generally include antihistamines and topical medications. In fact, it’s often helpful to take an oral antihistamine immediately following a hives outbreak to help reduce the swelling and inflammation. Over-the-counter topical medications can relieve the itching and swelling as well, and a dermatologist can prescribe prescription-strength corticosteroid creams if needed.
Preventing the rash isn’t always easy, especially since many people don't know what their hives triggers are. In general, it’s good practice to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and keep your home cool. If you’re in direct sunlight or intense heat and feel too warm, you should try to seek shade or get indoors as soon as possible to avoid overheating and breaking out in hives. If you know your triggers (like skin care or cleaning products, medications, or certain foods) then you should avoid them as much as you can to prevent hives.
If your hives outbreaks are frequent enough that they’re interfering with the quality of your life, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Through skin prick testing and patch testing, as well as tracking foods and product use, you may be able to identify whether the hives are being caused by an allergen.
If your hives rash is accompanied by anaphylaxis, you should go to an emergency room immediately. In the case of anaphylaxis, you may risk closing of the throat, which can be fatal if you don’t get help right away. This often happens when someone is highly allergic to a substance, and it’s recommended that these patients always carry an EpiPen.
If you’re breaking out in hives frequently or having serious reactions that last for days or more, see a dermatologist right away. If you’re in the greater New York City area, contact Vanguard Dermatology today. Our board-certified specialists can help.