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Hives (Adult)

Hives are pink or red bumps on the skin. These bumps are also known as “wheals.” The bumps can itch, burn, or sting. Hives can occur anywhere on the body. They vary in size and shape and can form in clusters. Individual hives can appear and go away quickly. New hives may develop as old ones fade. Hives are common and usually harmless. Occasionally hives are a sign of a serious allergy.

Hives are often caused by an allergic reaction. It may be an allergic reaction to foods such as fruit, shellfish, chocolate, nuts, or tomatoes. It may be a reaction to pollens, animal fur, or mold spores. Medications, chemicals, and insect bites can also cause hives. And hives can be caused by hot sun or cold air. The cause of hives can be difficult to find.

You may be given medications to relieve swelling and itching. Follow all instructions when using these medications. The hives will fade in a few days, but can last up to 2 weeks.

Home care

Follow these tips:

  • Try to find the cause of the hives and eliminate it. Discuss possible causes with your health care provider. Future reactions to the same allergen may be worse.

  • Don’t scratch the hives. Scratching will delay healing. To reduce itching, apply cool, wet compresses to the skin.

  • Dress in soft, loose cotton clothing.

  • Don’t bathe in hot water. This can make the itching worse.

  • Apply an ice pack or cool pack wrapped in a thin towel to your skin. This will help reduce redness and itching.

  • Try a topical spray or cream with benzocaine to help reduce itching.

  • Use oral diphenhydramine to help reduce itching. This is an antihistamine you can buy at drug and grocery stores. It can make you sleepy, so use lower doses during the daytime. Or you can use loratadine. This is an antihistamine that will not make you sleepy. Don’t use diphenhydramine if you have glaucoma or have trouble urinating because of an enlarged prostate.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider if your symptoms don't get better in 2 days. Ask your provider about allergy testing if you have had a severe reaction, or have had several episodes of hives. He or she can use the allergy testing to find out what you are allergic to.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • Swelling of the face, throat, or tongue

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Redness, swelling, or pain

  • Foul-smelling fluid coming from the rash

  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting


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