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When ‘hives’ are not the bee’s knees…

Hives, also called welts, wheals, or urticaria, are red raised skin lesions – it looks like an isolated area of swelling, and it’s very itchy. You may have experienced these lesions after touching stinging nettles or an allergy to certain medications. There may be few or many of these lesions visible over your body. Hives are common. It will affect around 20% of people at some point in their life. 

There are two groups of hives :

  1. Acute – if they occur less than six weeks
  2. Chronic – if they occur longer than six weeks

What triggers hives?

There are many tiggers that can lead to hives, here are just some triggers on the long list of hive triggers

Various triggers cause hives. These triggers then stimulate the mast cells in your skin to secrete a substance called histamine. Histamine then causes the blood vessels to dilate, and when the fluid leaks into the skin, it causes swelling in that area. Histamine is also the culprit of the nasty itch that follows.  

The list of triggers for hives is LONG. Very important to mention that about half of the time, the cause is not found! But here are some known triggers:

  • Medication – often antibiotics, but any medication can be the culprit
  • Certain foods you ate
  • After a viral or bacterial infection, often after a cold
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Physical triggers including – the sun, pressure, cold, heat, sweating, even water
  • Things you touch – plants, insects, meat, latex gloves.

When to worry about your hives –  

  • When hives stay for more than 24 hours

Hives come in batches. You might have some on your abdomen and legs, and then later that day, the first batch improved, and you have new ones on your arms and neck. But if an individual lesion remains unchanged for longer than 24 hours, you should see your dermatologist. Then there is a possibility that you may have vasculitis (inflammation in your vessels can have more severe consequences). 

  • Swollen tongue or throat

It’s best advised to consult with your doctor when your tongue/throat swells up, or when you are experiencing difficulty breathing. You may have anaphylaxis – this is when you have a severe allergic reaction, and you go into shock.

  • High fever or joint pains

When you have fevers and joint pains with the hives. Although rare, some autoinflammatory syndromes can present like this.

If you noticed you have hives on your body, there are many things you can do to keep track of your hives and prevent it from spreading.

What you can do : 

  • Keep a ‘hives diary’. Keep track of food or medication you were exposed to a couple of hours before the hives appeared. Also, think about things you might have touched. Note how many lesions you develop and monitor how long each lesion stays before it disappears.
  • Avoid aspirin. Aspirin or disprin can worsen hives.
  • Relieve the symptoms. Wear loose-fitting clothes, take a cool shower and apply soothing creams containing aloe, calamine, or menthol
  • Make an appointment with your dermatologist. We can help you get to the bottom of things and will start the appropriate medications.

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