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Hives

Published on May 21, 2019

Hives

What are hives?

Hives (otherwise known as Urticaria) are characterised by circular red, raised and itchy welts on the surface of the skin. They may look like mosquito bites, with a red outer rim and a white centre. They cause a rash, which may occur anywhere on the body, but is most commonly found on the torso, throat, arms and legs. Welts may vary in size from relatively small to the size of a dinner plate. Individual hives usually disappear within minutes, however they may come and go for days, weeks or sometimes longer1.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) estimates that up to 20% of Australians will develop hives over their lifetime1.

What causes an outbreak of hives?

Hives can be due to several different causes. The most common are listed below. In approximately 80% of cases, however, the cause of hives is never identified2.

1. Allergic reactions         

Allergens are the substances responsible for an allergic reaction. They can include everything from animal dander, pollen and insect venom (such as bee and wasp stings) to foods and medicines.

The more often an individual is exposed to common allergens, the more likely they will develop an allergy to them.

2. Physical and emotional causes

Hives may also be triggered by exercise, sweating, sunshine, heat, cold temperatures and emotional stress. 

3. Infection

Hives can appear in response to antibodies produced by the immune system, for example in the case of an infection such as the common cold. Chronic hives (where the rash lasts for longer than six weeks) can be caused by an underlying disorder of the immune system.

What is the treatment for hives?

Mild outbreaks of hives may not need treatment and will clear up within a few days on their own. To minimise the symptoms of hives you can:

  • Apply a cool compress to the rash and wear loose clothing.
  • Minimise vigorous activity and avoid irritation of the affected area.
  • If the cause of the hives has been identified, avoid the causative factors as much as possible.
  • Avoid sunlight, heat and hot showers, all of which tend to exacerbate hives.
  • Moderate symptoms may require treatment with an antihistamine medication, such as Telfast 180mg.

See your doctor if you have severe hives, or if the rash continues to appear for several days. Seek emergency medical attention if you have an outbreak of hives and feel light headed, have difficulty breathing or feel that your throat is swelling.

For more information, visit the ASCIA website.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

References

1 https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/skin-allergy/urticaria-hives Accessed 8 May 2019

2 https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hives Accessed 8 May 2019

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CHCANZ.CFEX.19.04.0434b May 2019

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