Hives, also known as urticaria, is a kind of skin rash with red, raised, itchy bumps. They may also burn or sting. Often the patches of rash move around. Typically, they last a few days and do not leave any long-lasting skin changes. Fewer than 5% of cases last for more than six weeks. The condition frequently recurs.
Hives frequently occur following an infection or as a result of an allergic reaction such as to medication, insect bites, or food. Psychological stress, cold temperature, or vibration may also be a trigger. In half of cases the cause remains unknown. Risk factors include having conditions such as hay fever or asthma.
About 20% of people are affected. Cases of short duration occur equally in males and females while cases of long duration are more common in females. Cases of short duration are more common among children while cases of long duration are more common among those who are middle aged. Hives have been described at least since the time of Hippocrates.
Prevention is by avoiding whatever it is that causes the condition. Treatment is typically with antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and ranitidine. In severe cases, corticosteroids or leukotriene inhibitors may also be used. Keeping the environmental temperature cool is also useful. For cases that last more than six weeks immunosuppressants such as ciclosporin may be used.
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