Hives or urticaria is a condition characterized by itchy spots or patches of raised bumps on skin. Hives may be small spots on the skin or large patches, often reddish and raised. It may be caused by an allergic reaction or by other conditions. They may appear anywhere in the body, but is usually seen on face, lips, tongue, throat, or ears.
Angioedema, or giant hives, are similar to hives but form beneath the skin. It is characterized by swelling under the eyes and lips. These two conditions are often harmless and resolve without any specific treatment. Antihistamine medications are the common treatment for this skin condition. It may become potentially life-threatening if the swelling in throat or tongue obstruct the airway.
Smooth, raised, reddish colored bumps on the skin called wheals are the main symptoms of hives. They are itchy and cause a burning sensation. They first appear on trunk, upper arms, and legs. They may appear in batches and persist for few minutes or hours.
Hives appear as small patches which later join together to form big blotches covering a large part of the body.
Angioedema are different from hive in appearance. It is characterized by swelling under the eyes and mouth. Swelling may also be found in throat, tongue, hands, and genitals. The swellings are not so itchy, but have a burning sensation.
Hives and angioedema are caused by a reaction of the body towards chemicals like histamine, bradykinin, leukotriene C4, and prostaglandin D2. It is most often caused by allergic reaction.
Some of the most common triggers of hives are:
Food allergy – certain kinds of food like shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and milk cause an allergic reaction that result in hives and angioedema.
Certain medications – medications like penicillin, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen often cause hives and angioedema.
Allergens – common environmental allergens like pollen, animal dander, and insect stings cause skin irritation and hives.
Environmental factors – many environmental conditions, including cold, heat, sunlight, water, pressure, and stress, cause hives and angioedema. Strenuous physical activity also result in hives.
Certain medical conditions – immune system disorder like lupus, thyroid problems, certain cancers, and infections may lead to hives and angioedema.
Genetics – one form of angioedema, called hereditary angioedema, is inherited.
The major risk factors of hives and angioedema include history of hives, allergic reactions, and immune system disorders like lupus.
4 Making a Diagnosis
Hives are diagnosed by a review of medical history and symptoms. Timing of symptoms after exposure to any of the triggers indicate chances of hives. Further tests are recommended on the basis of medical history and physical examination.
Allergy test helps to identify the trigger. Blood tests help to rule out chances of other medical conditions that cause similar responses.
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