What Are Hives? 

What are hives? Hives are a form of a skin reaction that is usually caused by being exposed to particular substances, foods and drugs. Hives which are also known by the name of urticaria can result in the formation of red marks on the skin which itch a lot. The sizes of these red marks vary from person to person and can be anywhere from small specks to large marks spanning many inches.

Angioedema is a similar type of skin reaction to hives which results in the swelling up of the layers of skin present around the lips and the eyes. Mostly, angioedema and hives do not cause much trouble and go away completely without leaving any scars even if you don’t receive any treatment for them.  

What Causes Hives?

If you want to know "what are hives", first thing you should know is causes of hives. Release of histamine in the blood is the body’s natural response when it is exposed to a substance that it is allergic to. This histamine is responsible for causing itchiness, swelling and a number of other symptoms. Although hives are pretty common, people who suffer from allergies like hay fever are more at risk of developing hives.

Hives are usually caused by exposure to substances like pollen and animal dander, taking certain medications, insect bites and consuming foods such as milk, eggs, shellfish and nuts. In addition to this, hives can also develop because of doing excessive exercise, emotional stress, too much sweating, sun exposure, infections like mononucleosis and certain diseases like leukemia, lupus and some autoimmune disorders.

Symptoms of Hives

A inseparable part of "what are hives" is what it feels like when you get hives. It may give red marks and make your lips like sausage.

1. Marks

The marks that are common signs of hives are usually red in color and look like flesh. They itch a lot and are shaped like an oval. The size of these welts can range from a few millimeters to several inches. In most cases, hives go away within a day or two but chronic hives can remain for years. 

2. Angioedema

Angioedema is a skin reaction that is similar to hives. However, angioedema mostly affects the skin’s deep layers and the swelling it causes forms around the lips, eyes and cheeks. Both hives and angioedema can strike at the same time or separately as well. The common signs of angioedema are formation of big blotches on the skin with pain felt in the affected areas accompanied with redness and swelling.  

When to See a Doctor

Mostly, hives and angioedema can be easily treated at home without encountering any difficulty. However, if the hives last for more than a few days then it is time to see a doctor. Seek medical care immediately if you start having difficulty in breathing because of the swelling caused by angioedema.

Treatments for Hives

Getting rid of hives is the ultimate goal of knowing "what are hives". The use of antihistamine drugs is the universal treatment method used for angioedema and hives. Angioedema can become lethal if the airway gets restricted by the tongue or the throat because of the excessive swelling.

1. Prescription Drugs

The medications that are usually prescribed for the treatment of hives and angioedema include antihistamines, corticosteroids, autoimmune drugs and blood protein controllers. Antihistamines control the itching while corticosteroids reduce the swelling associated with hives. If these two drugs don’t work then autoimmune drugs are used to suppress the immune system which has gone into overdrive. The blood protein controllers are usually given to patients having a family history of angioedema.

2. For Severe and Frequent Attacks

If you are having a severe attack of hives or angioedema then it is best for you to seek immediate medical care. You will have to be injected with a kind of adrenaline named epinephrine to control the symptoms. People who suffer from frequent attacks of severe angioedema have to carry a pen-like gadget with them at all times so that they can inject themselves with epinephrine in case of an emergency. 

Home Remedies for Hives

1. Stay Away from Irritants

The best way to steer clear from hives and angioedema is to stay away from the irritants that are responsible for causing them. The triggers of both these skin reactions that you must avoid include pollen, latex, pet dander, insect bites and certain foods and drugs.

2. Take an OTC Antihistamine

The itchiness caused by the hives can be controlled by buying an over-the-counter antihistamine that can be taken orally. The non-prescription antihistamines that you can take include cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and loratadine (Claritin).

3. Apply Wet, Cool Compresses

Making use of a wet, cool cloth to cover the affected areas can help soothe the skin and reduce itching. 

4. Take a Cozy Shower

Taking a cozy shower is also a great home remedy for treating hives. To make the bath more comforting, add a bit of baking soda and Aveeno, oatmeal, to the water in the bathtub. This is going to reduce the itching and provide you relief from the incessant need to scratch the affected areas.

5. Choose Loose, Smooth-Textured Cotton Clothes

Avoid wearing woolen clothes as they increase the itching ever more. Instead, go for loose and airy cotton clothing that is not too tight or rough in texture.

6. Enrich Your Diet to Boost Your Immune System

Consume a diet that contains all the basic nutrients which are required for staying healthy. Increase your intake of vitamin C by including citrus fruits in your diet. Probiotics and acidophilus can shorten the duration of the hives that are caused due to food allergies. Thus, consuming foods like yogurt and cottage cheese that contain them can also help in reducing the chances of getting hives.

7. Use Aloe Vera

Another excellent home remedy for treating hives is to apply aloe vera topically on the affected area and the adjoining skin. Aloe vera has amazing skin healing properties and can help in curing the hives quickly and also stop them from spreading.

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