Hives (urticaria) are sudden and very itchy bumps on your skin. These bumps are common and are caused by an allergic reaction to a certain substance. This releases substances into your skin which cause moisture to accumulate under your skin. The bumps can take on different shapes. The real cause of hives usually remains unknown, but it can come from something inside or outside of your body. Examples of culprits are nettles or foods which you’re allergic to. Hives are harmless and not contagious. They usually go away within a few hours or days, but can sometimes last longer than 6 weeks. This means you’re suffering from chronic hives. The latter type mainly occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Hives can result in the following symptoms:
- You have sudden, flat and red bumps on your skin. The bumps differ in size and length and have a red border around them. There can be several bumps in the same place and they usually merge together.
- The bumps itch, hurt and/or burn.
- Your eyes, lips, face, hands, feet, or genitals may swell. This will happen to one in three people with hives.
There are various different things you can do about hives yourself:
- Don’t touch plants which can cause hives, like nettles.
- Find the cause of the hives. Check what you’ve done or eaten. You can keep track of this in a diary. Do you know what caused the hives? Then avoid that cause in the future.
- Avoid stress, painkillers, heat and alcohol. These can make your symptoms worse.
- Don’t scratch. This can make the itching worse.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. This will ensure your clothes rub against your skin as little as possible.
- Don’t take any medication you’re allergic to.
- Buy remedies or tablets which reduce the itching. Examples are cooling ointments and cetrizine. These are available from the chemist or pharmacy. Obtain advice about the right product, the right tablets and how to use these. Especially if it’s the first time you’re suffering from hives.
You should contact your GP if:
- You’ve discovered the hives are caused by a certain medication.
- You’re suffering from severe chronic hives. Your GP will then discuss with you whether it may help to see a dermatologist or allergist. They can determine the cause of the hives more accurately and provide further advice. They may not always be able to find the cause either.
- If your hives medication or products don’t work. Your GP will look into which medication may work together with you. For example, your GP can prescribe levocetirizine or desloratadine.
You should always immediately call 112 if you’re experiencing any symptoms which correspond to an anaphylactic shock. These symptoms will usually start with:
- Red sore skin. This may be a burning, itchy or stinging feeling.
- An increased heart rate.
- Swelling of your throat.
- An anaphylactic shock can already be happening before you’ve experienced the above symptoms.
Afterwards you may also experience the following with an anaphylactic shock:
- Swelling of your eyelids.
- Swelling of your lips.
- Swelling of your tongue.
- Swelling of the throat.
- Breathing problems.
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Drowsiness and/or fainting.
- Contraction of your throat muscles.
- A cardiac arrest. In the worst case scenario.
- Respiratory arrest. In the worst case scenario.