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Hives are small, itchy, red swellings on the skin. The swelling may occur singularly or in clusters. Hives tend to fade after a few hours, but new ones can appear. Most cases go away within a few days, but some can last a few weeks or longer.

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What Causes Hives?

An allergic reaction can cause your body to release a chemical called histamine, which creates hives. You may get hives without being exposed to something you're allergic to.

While the cause is unknown in some cases, these factors may cause hives:

  • Foods, most commonly:
    • Eggs
    • Shellfish
    • Nuts
    • Chocolate
    • Fish
    • Tomatoes
    • Fresh berries
    • Milk
  • Medicines
  • Reaction to allergy shots 
  • Infections
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Latex
  • Pressure
  • Cold or heat
  • Sunlight
  • Thyroid disease 
  • Pollen
  • Stress
  • Vasculitis 

Hive Symptoms

Symptoms of hives can vary from mild-to-severe:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Excessive swelling of the eyelids, lips or genitals
  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

Diagnosis & Treatment 

Your doctor will use these tests to diagnose your condition:

  • Skin prick test — a tiny bit of an allergen is placed in your skin with a needle to see if the area becomes raised or irritated
  • Skin biopsy — a small portion of abnormal skin is removed
  • X-ray — a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones
  • Blood tests

The best way to treat hives is to find and then avoid the cause. If the cause can't be found, there are medicines to reduce symptoms or treat hives. Ultraviolet light therapy and prescription epinephrine (adrenalin) injections may also be beneficial.


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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