Hives (urticaria)

Hives typically appear as an outbreak of swollen bumps or dry patches that might be pale or red. They will likely itch, but might also burn or sting, especially after scratching. On certain areas of the body, such as the face or mouth, the suffering is more pronounced. Hives are usually caused by a histamine response in which blood plasma leaks from the blood vessels in response to food allergies, chemicals, insect stings or medications.


  • Raised, itchy bumps or patches of skin
  • Swollen, blistered red welts

Who is at risk?

Anyone may be at risk. Foods that commonly cause hives include nuts, chocolate, fish, tomatoes, eggs, berries and milk. Animal dander, insect bites, pollen and some medications trigger hives. They can also result from emotional stress or illness. Sun exposure is another culprit.


The majority of cases of chronic hives go undiagnosed. A physician directed skin test might determine the cause of the hives. Blood tests can determine a system wide disease triggering the outbreak. For chronic outbreaks, physicians will likely recommend an antihistamine with a cool compress or bath (without any soaps or bubbles).

Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?

Notify emergency help if symptoms are accompanied by dizziness, wheezing or breathing difficulty. Any swelling of the eyes or nose is a key indicator of an emergency situation. If a reaction is sudden and extreme, do not drive to an emergency department. Call 911.

For more information on hives, see the following websites:

WebMD Overview and Images of Hives

Urticaria by American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

American Academy of Dermatology on Urticaria – Hives

Disclaimer: The links above are to sites independent of The pages will open in a new browser window. The information provided is for educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding your specific medical questions, treatments, therapies, and other needs.