Hives and swelling are typical symptoms of food allergies, drug allergies and insect allergies. Hives are red, raised welts on the surface of the skin that often are very itchy or even painful. Also known as “urticaria,” hives affect nearly 20 percent of the population in the United States at some point in their lives and may be mild or severe in terms of itching and swelling. Though hives and skin swelling typically are caused by allergies, they also can be brought on or exacerbated by scratching, stress, alcohol, excessive perspiration, exposure to extreme temperatures and some illnesses and infections.
Acute skin hives will last for six weeks or less and typically is a direct result of a food allergy, drug allergy, insect allergy, or acute infection. Blood transfusions and certain infections also can cause a hives rash. A chronic hives rash that lasts more than six weeks generally is considered to be idiopathic, meaning that the cause is unknown or unconfirmed. However, about half of the chronic hives rash and skin swelling cases are thought to be caused by the immune system’s spontaneous release of chemicals into the bloodstream triggered by an unknown allergen, and half by thyroid disease or other hormonal problems rather than an allergy. Other types of hives include physical hives, which appear as a skin rash that forms along a scratch; delayed pressure hives, which refers to skin swelling that appears in areas where constant pressure is applied, such as beneath belts, sock bands and other constricting clothing; cold hives from rapid exposure of the body to cold, then warm temperatures; and cholinergic hives, a hypersensitivity reaction to body heat and sweating via sun exposure (which can also suggest solar hives), rigorous exercise and too-hot showers or saunas.
Angioedema is similar to urticaria with the main difference being a swelling in the lower level of the skin. This may include lips, tongue, throat, eyes, legs and gastrointestinal tract. The etiology is thought to be very similar as well. However, there are rare cases of angioedema that run in families and this is called hereditary angioedema.
Hives and swelling treatment options most often include antihistamines and corticosteroid medications, plus lifestyle modifications to help you avoid allergens and other hives and swelling triggers. Epinephrine (adrenaline) injections may be prescribed for more severe hives and swelling. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida, our experienced allergists will go over your history of hives and swelling symptoms and family history. They will also recommend appropriate diagnostic and treatment options. If you suffer from hives or swelling, call us to schedule an appointment at one of our four Jacksonville area locations on University Blvd., the Westside, in Mandarin or in Orange Park in neighboring Clay County.