Understanding Allergies: What are Hives?
What are hives?
Hives (also known as urticaria) is a type of skin rash that is triggered when the body releases high levels of histamine.i This can sometimes happen due to an allergic reaction, but exposure to hot or cold temperatures or an infection can also be the culprit of heavy histamine production.i
If you’ve ever experienced hives, you know how uncomfortable they can be. Hives cause the skin to swell and form red, itchy and blotchy raised areas, which can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few days. The rash may be isolated to one part of the body or spread across larger areas.i
Although hives in children and adults can be unpleasant, they are not uncommon. In the UK, around 15 percent of the population will experience hives at some point in their lives – though the condition does tend to more commonly affect women.ii
Learn more about causes and treatment options for hives below.
What causes hives?
Frustratingly, in many cases, hives have no obvious cause – but there are some common triggers to keep an eye out for.i
Hives can appear in two different forms: acute (the most common type) and chronic (rarer).i Acute hives usually last for around 24 to 48 hours and are typically caused by an allergic reaction – whether it’s to a certain food, an insect bite, interacting with chemicals, or a type of medication. However, in around half of all cases of acute hives a cause can’t be determined at all.i, iii
Acute hives most commonly occur in children,i and while they can seem worrying to parents, rest assured that treatment for hives is readily available. We’ll discuss some of the options for relieving hives below.
Chronic hives last for longer than six weeks and are usually caused by long-term health issues (particularly autoimmune conditions), stress or exposure to hot or cold temperatures.i, iii
While the cause of hives is not always clear, there are a few things that have been shown to aggravate hives once they have appeared. These include:i
- drinking alcohol or caffeine,
- emotional stress, and
- warm temperatures.
If you have developed hives, it’s best to steer clear of the above to avoid making your symptoms worse.
If you think you may have an allergy, or you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, consult a pharmacist, the NHS website or your GP for advice. If your symptoms are severe and you need help urgently, call the NHS 111 helpline.
Hives treatment: how to manage hives
The good news is that, in many cases, hives will go away on their own within a few days.i However, for more persistent hives, rest assured that treatment options are readily available.
Hives can usually be managed with antihistamines,i, iv as well as many over-the-counter allergy relief medications like Piriteze Syrup or Tablets, which can help give you relief from the frustrating rashes and itching that hives cause.
Before giving your child any allergy treatment medication or taking any yourself, be sure to speak to a pharmacist to check that the product is safe to use. You can also consult the NHS website or your GP for more allergy treatment advice.
In more severe cases, your GP may also consider prescribing a short course of steroid tablets to treat hives, however this isn’t common.i
If you do experience hives, you should speak to a doctor if any of the following occur:iv
- your hives symptoms do not improve after two days
- you're worried about your child's hives
- the rash is spreading
- your hives keep coming back (you may be allergic to something)
- you also have a high temperature and feel generally unwell
- you also have swelling under the skin
Sources: Clicking any of the links below takes you to an external website that is independently operated and not managed by GSK. GSK assumes no responsibility for the content on the website. If you do not wish to leave this website, do not click on the links below.
- Urticaria (hives). NI Direct. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/urticaria-hives. Accessed 20/01/21.
- Urticaria (Hives) and Other Skin Allergy. Allergy UK. https://www.allergyuk.org/information-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/416-urticaria-hives-and-other-skin-allergy. Accessed 20/01/21.
- Urticaria. Patient Info. https://patient.info/doctor/urticaria-pro. Accessed 20/01/21.
- Hives. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hives/. Accessed 20/01/21.