Hives (urticaria) are itchy, red, swollen patches on the skin. They may change size, shape, and location quickly and repeatedly. Hives that occur deeper in the skin can cause swelling of the hands, feet, and face. Hives may be an allergic reaction to something you ate, touched, or put on your skin. Hives can also be a reaction to cold, heat, viral infections, medication, insect bites, or emotional stress. Often the cause is hard to find. Hives can come and go for several days to several weeks. Hives are not contagious.


  • If the cause of the hives is known, avoid exposure to that source.

  • To relieve itching and rash:

  • Apply cold compresses to the skin or take cool water baths. Do not take hot baths or showers because the warmth will make the itching worse.

  • The best medicine for hives is an antihistamine. An antihistamine will not cure hives, but it will reduce their severity. You can use an antihistamine available over the counter. This medicine may make you sleepy. You should not drive while using this medicine.

  • Take or give an antihistamine as directed by your pharmacist or caregiver.

  • Other medications may be prescribed for itching. Use these as directed.

  • You should wear loose fitting clothing, including undergarments, as skin irritations may make hives worse.

  • Follow-up as directed by your caregiver.


  • You still have considerable itching after taking the medication (prescribed or purchased over the counter).

  • Joint swelling or pain occurs.

  • You are not improving or are getting worse.


  • You have a fever.

  • You notice any swelling of the lips, tongue, face or neck.

  • You have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or tightness in the throat or chest.

  • Belly (abdominal) pain develops.

  • You are feeling very sick.

  • Your hives continue to spread.

These may be the first signs of a life-threatening allergic reaction. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. Call 911 for medical help.