Hives (Urticaria & Angioedema)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideRosacea, Acne, Shingles: Common Adult Skin Diseases

Rosacea, Acne, Shingles: Common Adult Skin Diseases

What causes hives and angioedema? Are hives contagious? Does stress cause hives?

Hives appear when histamine and other compounds are released from cells called mast cells, which are normally found in the skin. Histamine causes fluid to leak from the local blood vessels, leading to swelling in the skin.

Hives are very common and are not considered contagious. Although annoying, hives usually resolve on their own over a period of weeks and are rarely medically serious. Some hives may be caused by allergies to such things as foods, infections by different organisms, medications, food coloring, preservatives and insect stings or bites, and chemicals; but in the majority of cases, no specific cause is ever found. Although people may find it frustrating not to know what has caused their hives, maneuvers like changing diet, soap, detergent, and makeup are rarely helpful in preventing hives unless there is an excellent temporal relationship. Since hives most often are produced by an immune mechanism, the condition is not contagious. If an infectious disease were the cause of hives in a particular person then it is possible, but not likely, that an infected contact could develop hives.

Having hives may cause stress, but stress by itself does not cause hives.

What are the different kinds of hives?

Hives fall into two categories on the basis of the time they have been present: acute urticaria (ordinary hives, which resolve after six to eight weeks) and chronic urticaria (that continues longer than six to eight weeks). Since hives are so common and acute urticaria, by definition, resolves spontaneously, physicians do not generally expend much time or expense to evaluate the cause of hives of less than eight weeks' duration.

Reviewed on 11/14/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Bernstein, Jonathan A., et al. "The Diagnosis and Management of Acute and Chronic Urticaria: 2014 Update." J Allergy Clin Immunol 133.5 May 2014: 1270-1277.

Criado, Paulo Ricardo. "Chronic Urticaria in Adults: State-of-the-Art in the New Millennium." An Bras Dermatol 90.1 (2015): 74-89.

Fine, Lauren M., and Jonathan A. Bernstein. "Urticaria Guidelines: Consensus and Controversies in the European and American Guidelines." Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 15 (2015): 30.

Langley, Emily W., and Joseph Gigante. "Anaphylaxis, Urticaria, and Angioedema." Pediatrics in Review 34 (2013): 247-258.

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