Hives: Care Instructions

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Hives are raised, red, itchy patches of skin. They usually have red borders and pale centers. Hives range in size from ¼ inch to 3 inches or more across. They may seem to move from place to place on the skin. Several hives may form a large area of raised, red skin.

Hives are an allergic reaction of the skin. They can happen because of a reaction to medicine, food, or infection. Other things can also cause hives. But sometimes the cause is unknown.

You cannot spread hives to other people.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Many times hives are caused by something you can't avoid, like a virus or bacteria, or you may not know the cause. But if you think they were caused by a certain food or medicine, avoid it.
  • Stay away from strong soaps, detergents, and chemicals. These can make itching worse.
  • Put a cool, wet towel on the area to relieve itching.
  • Take a nondrowsy antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin), to help stop the hives and calm the itching. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. These may include:
    • Sudden raised, red areas (hives) all over your body.
    • Swelling of the throat, mouth, lips, or tongue.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Passing out (losing consciousness). Or you may feel very lightheaded or suddenly feel weak, confused, or restless.
    • Severe belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:
    • A rash or hives (raised, red areas on the skin).
    • Itching.
    • Swelling.
    • Mild belly pain or nausea.
  • You get hives after you start a new medicine.
  • Hives have not gone away after 24 hours.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.