Every year, about 20% of Americans will get hives – those itchy, red bumps or welts that can appear after a day in the garden, taking medication, being bitten by a bug or for no apparent reason at all. Patricia A. MacCulloch is a nurse practitioner and professor of nursing who teaches about hives, among many other things. She offers some insight into this annoying condition that can sometimes be a sign of a life-threatening emergency.
What are hives and what causes them?
Hives are a term used to describe a medical condition known as urticaria, a skin disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system responds to an allergic threat.
Hives can occur at any age, and the appearance of hives can vary with skin color. If you have brown skin, hives are often the same color as your skin or slightly darker or lighter than your natural skin color. People who have light complexions will have pink- and red-colored hives as a result of the allergic reaction. Hives can itch, burn and sting and often feel warm to the touch. Hives can also result in blanching, whereby pressing on the hive will cause the discoloration to disappear and then return immediately when the pressure is lifted. Hives may stay, spread or emerge on another part of the skin.
Hives can occur for a variety of reasons including but not limited to certain foods, medications, plants, pollen, animal dander, insect bites and chemicals found in the garden like pesticides. It’s also possible for people to experience hives related to emotional stress, as a result of wearing tight clothing when exercising or as a result of illnesses or infection.