So you’re going about your day when you realize that your arm has been itching a little too frequently lately. You look down and notice small red welts appearing on your skin. Clearly it’s hives, but what does that mean? Should you panic? Is this a sign of something serious?
To help put your mind at ease, we’re going to explain exactly what hives are and whether or not they have a more sinister cause.
Hives are skin rashes that appear as red welts on the skin that may itch, burn, or even sting. Hives typically spread rapidly and in severe cases can even become intolerable.
Most often, hives are caused by an allergic reaction to food, materials, products, or other environmental substances. The thing that causes hives to appear mostly depends on your personal sensitivities. For example, individuals who are sensitive to gluten may develop hives when eating bread or other wheat products. Another common example of a hives breakout is poison ivy. Most humans are allergic to urushiol, the substance produced by the poison ivy plant. When you come into contact with this substance, it typically causes a severe breakout of hives.
Beyond having an allergic reaction, you can get hives from stress, excessive sweating, tight and uncomfortable clothing, and even certain illnesses and infections.
While hives can be a general annoyance, it’s rarely a sign of something serious and is simply a temporary reaction to an allergy. However, allergic reactions can be life-threatening, and hives may accompany more serious reactions like anaphylaxis. In a case like this, anaphylaxis typically occurs within minutes, if not seconds, of being exposed to an allergy. Hives, on the other hand, may take a while to appear. So if you’re seeing hives but are not having any breathing issues, your throat is not swelling, and you are not dizzy, odds are you are merely experiencing a temporary hive rash.
Hives can also be a sign of a bacterial infection like a urinary tract infection or strep throat. While most bacterial infections are not life-threatening, they can become serious if left untreated.
If you’re having a typical reaction and are experiencing hives, odds are you don’t need treatment. That’s because hives often go away on their own as your body properly fights the allergy. That being said, scratching, rubbing, or further irritating the rash can exacerbate it, making the symptoms much more unbearable, and can possibly cause an infection.
Avoiding hot showers and taking cool oatmeal baths instead can soothe your symptoms and make the reaction manageable until it dissipates.
If you find yourself unable to handle the symptoms, you can opt for over-the-counter antihistamines, and if push comes to shove, you can always visit a trusted dermatologist to aid you in finding relief.
If your hives are caused by an infection, you’ll need to speak with your doctor about treatment for that infection, which will in turn treat the hives as well.