Hives (urticaria) and swelling (angioedema) are two conditions that are very common, and it is estimated that approximately 10-20% of individuals will experience an episode of hives and/or swelling.

Hives, which may occur with or without associated swelling, is usually classified as acute, lasting less than 6 weeks, or chronic, lasting longer than 6 weeks.  Swelling usually occurs along with hives, but may also occur without any associated hive outbreaks.  Swelling usually involves the face, including lips and eyes, and may also frequently occur in the hands and feet; swelling frequently resolves within 24 hours.

Hives are usually somewhat circular areas on the skin that are red, raised and itchy, and an individual hive usually fades away in less than 24 hours.  Hives may come together (known as coalescing) and form large areas of hives that may take longer to fade away.  The size of hives varies, as does the number of hives a patient may experience, along with the areas of the body where the hives occur.  The size, number, or area(s) of the body affected by the hives generally does not play a role in the diagnosis of the condition.

The causes of hives are varied.  In the case of acute hives, the underlying cause is frequently an underlying infection, often a viral infection, such as the common cold.  Less commonly, hives may result from food allergy, drug allergy, or venom allergy (allergy to bees, wasps, or fire ants).

The cause of chronic hives is not well understood, but some consider that it may be a type of autoimmune disease.  It is now generally accepted that allergy is rarely, if ever, the cause of chronic hives.

Hives are generally diagnosed by obtaining a patient’s history, along with a physical exam which identifies hives.  Even if you visit with Dr. Laurie and do not have hives that day, your history usually allows him to make a diagnosis of hives and/or swelling.

Treatment of hives focuses on controlling the symptoms from hives and swelling, and this is readily done by utilizing one or more effective medications.  Patients are educated about their condition, and a search takes place for any underlying cause of the hives.

Are you experiencing unexplained hives or swelling?  Call or contact the Allergy and Asthma Center today!

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