Identifying and Treating Hives

Hives can be one of the most annoying, embarrassing and uncomfortable conditions, and there are several reasons why hives materialize. Parents with children who develop hives often panic, thinking that there is something more seriously wrong with their child, but hives have very few lasting complications. In fact, they often clear up on their own with little or no treatment.

Hives are almost always the result of an allergic reaction, though they can also be a result of a stressful situation (a psychosomatic disorder). When you experience an allergic reaction, high concentrations of histamines and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream, all of which cause intense itching, swelling, burning and other symptoms. A psychosomatic episide of hives can be a result of stress, anger, sadness or fear. The human body is good about telling you when it’s had enough abuse, and emotional stress can very easily trigger that alert system.

Hives can be caused by a plethora of different stimuli, including medications, foods (particularly shellfish and nuts), pollen, dander and insect bites. They can also be a secondary result of an infection, prolonged sun exposure or excessive perspiration. And, as I said before, hives can be caused by high levels of emotional stress.

Thankfully, hives are fairly easy to spot, and are easily differentiated from other types of skin conditions. They usually appear quickly and in various areas of the body as raised red welts (also called wheals) that might spread, retract, appear or disappear in very short amounts of time. If you press the center of a wheal, it will blanch before quickly returning to a dark red color. Sometimes the spots are as small as a chicken pox, but they are usually bigger. In fact, several wheals might join together to form one giant welt covering a large amount of the body.

Sometimes hives are painful, and sometimes they are not. They will almost always itch, and they frequently begin on the face or on the chest.

If your hives are mild, you may not need to seek medical treatment. Often, hives will disappear on their own. Taking a cool bath or applying cold compresses to the welts might ease discomfort, and wear loose-fitting clothing until the welts disappear. You should also take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to speed up the recovery process. Benadryl will also make you sleepy, which might be exactly what your body needs to recover.

If you do go to the doctor, and you are unsure what caused the reaction, he will probably order blood or skin tests that will determine whether or not you have an allergy. This is unnecessary if you feel the reaction was caused psychosomatically.

For particularly severe reactions, an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline) or a steroid might be administered. This is particularly common for hives that affect the neck and throat, which can lead to swelling and the obstruction of your airway.

In most cases, hives are uncomfortable but harmless, and will disappear on their own or with the help of antihistamines. The cause for the hives might never be known, but if you are concerned about an allergy, it is wise to have yourself tested. Be sure to call 911 if your airway is at all restricted or if you experience severe fatique or loss of consciousness. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

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