Hives is a really common skin reaction that, as a parent, you are bound to see at some point. In fact, 20% of people experience hives at some point in their lives (according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology). Hives are classically itchy, raised, red warm, and bumpy. The raised area often looks a bit like a welt and has a slighter lighter color in the center. Hives range in size from about a half inch to multiple inches in diameter. FYI, the medical term for hives is uticaria.

Hives are tricky

Hives often fool people because they can appear and disappear suddenly. Often times they move locations (over a period of a few hours).

What causes hives?

Unfortunately, determining the cause of hives is often playing detective (and coming up short). Hives are usually an allergic response to something, such as:

  1. Foods (e.g., nuts, eggs, shellfish, milk)
  2. Insect bites/stings (e.g., bees)
  3. Medications
  4. Viruses (not to be confused with some rashes that viruses cause)

How to treat hives

  1. Eliminate the offending agent if possible (e.g., wipe the peanut butter off your kid’s face)
  2. Try an oral antihistamine like Benedryl (aka diphenhydramine)
  3. Apply a cool compress to the itchy and swollen area to relieve some of the discomfort
  4. Seek immediate medical care if swelling goes beyond the skin (i.e., into the mouth or lungs—causing any trouble with breathing).

Should I worry?

Generally speaking hives are not serious. They usually resolve within a day or two. If you can’t determine the cause of the hives and they persist, you may need to seek medical care. Sometimes, a person will require more aggressive treatment with medications (e.g., a short course of steroids) to get the immune response to settle down.  If the hives become chronic or recurrent, you may need to see a specialist to help with getting resolution.

Chances are you’ll see this rash at some time, so store this one in your memory bank and hopefully you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and worry and skip the doctor’s office altogether.


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About The Author

Dr. Monica Wonnacott

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. I've been doing this doctor thing for 10 years, and love it. I'm known for giving parents the straight scoop without always sugar-coating it. And I believe in educating parents. The more you know, the better care you give your kids.

Dr. Monica Wonnacott, Pediatric Answers ™

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. Pediatric AnswersTM is where parents can get the straight scoop on their child's health, largely based on my experience in the office and at home. I don't diagnose on the site, so please don't ask. These are just my opinions. Use this site as a resource. And trust your parent gut.

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