Urticaria, more commonly known as “hives,” is a skin reaction resulting in red, itchy bumps of varying size that fade and reappear as the reaction runs its course.

The condition is considered chronic if the welts appear for more than six weeks and recur frequently over time. Short-term (acute) hives appear suddenly and clear up within a few weeks.

The causes of acute hives include reactions to medications, heat or cold, stress, alcohol, food, fabric, exercise, insect or parasite bite or infection.

Often, the cause of chronic hives is not clear. In some cases, chronic hives may be related to an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disease or, rarely, cancer. Chronic hives can be very uncomfortable and interfere with sleep and daily activities. For many people, antihistamines and anti-itch medications like calamine lotion provide relief.

Symptoms of urticaria:

Signs and symptoms of chronic hives include:

  • Batches of red or skin-colored welts, which can appear anywhere on the body
  • Welts that vary in size, change shape, and appear and fade repeatedly as the reaction runs its course
  • Itching, which may be severe
  • Painful swelling (angioedema) of the lips, eyelids and inside the throat
  • A tendency for signs and symptoms to flare with triggers such as heat, exercise and stress
  • A tendency for signs and symptoms to persist for more than six weeks and to recur frequently and unpredictably, sometimes for months or years

When to see your doctor:

See your doctor if you have severe hives, or hives that continue to appear for several days.

Seek emergency care if you experience hives as part of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include dizziness, trouble breathing, and swelling of your lips, eyelids and tongue.

Treatment of urticaria:

Your doctor may likely start by recommending over-the-counter antihistamines. Taking these non-drowsy pills daily helps block the symptom-producing release of histamine. If antihistamines alone don’t relieve your symptoms, other drugs may help. For example, Histamine (H-2) blockers, anti-inflammation medications, drugs may help relieve your symptoms.

There are some at-home remedies that can soothe the affected area as well. Avoid scratching or using harsh soaps, apply anti-itch cream, keep a diary of when and where hives occur, and wear loose clothing.