In medical terms, hives are referred to as urticaria (ur-tih-CAR-ee-uh). Typically, hives look like welts on the skin, areas in which skin has become red and slightly raised. These areas may range in size from very small, the size of a pencil tip, to quite large, covering a much larger area. In some, hives will meet to form one very large grouping.

Any person of any age can get hives. Usually, these welts will gradually fade over time. As old hives fade, however, new ones may form, extending the overall duration of discomfort. There are several reasons one may develop hives. The primary source, however, is an allergic reaction to a trigger such as:

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  • Foods such as shellfish, peanuts, eggs, milk, and some citrus fruits
  • Contact with an allergen such as latex or detergent
  • Pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Medicine
  • Stress
  • Excessive heat or cold

Most often, hives are a minor disturbance. There are instances in which hives indicate a severe allergic reaction. Hives that develop deep beneath the skin, called angioedema, can cause significant swelling in the lips or eyelids. This type of swelling may also occur in the airway.

If hives are accompanied by difficulty breathing, immediate medical attention should be sought.

Diagnosing hives

Our dermatologist can often recognize hives just by looking at your skin. The issue is not necessarily identifying hives but finding the cause. The longer hives have been present, the more challenging this may be.

During your initial consultation for hives, our dermatologist will gather information regarding the onset and progression of the problem, as well as your general health history. A physical examination will be performed, and tests may take place. Tests for hives may include:

  • Blood work to rule out the possibility of infection or illness
  • Allergy testing either by blood work or skin testing
  • Biopsy of the skin, in which a small piece of skin is removed and examined microscopically

Treating hives

When hives are mild to moderate, antihistamine medication may be prescribed. Your doctor can prescribe a non-drowsy antihistamine that will relieve symptoms such as swelling and itching.

Antihistamines may also be prescribed for chronic hives, in addition to other medications if necessary. No two people are exactly alike, which is why treatment must be tailored to your individual needs. After seeing how your body responds to treatment, adjustments may be made.

Washington Dermatology Consultants has solutions for hives and other skin concerns. Contact us in Arlington or Stafford for your consultation with our board certified dermatologist.