Hives or to give them their medical name ‘urticaria’ are a type of skin rash which affects both adults and babies. They develop as a crop of spots on the skin which disappear only to reappear on another area of skin. A patch of hives can last from a few minutes through to several hours. However, they can persist over a period of several months. Hives are a common skin rash but are not contagious. They appear as a ‘breakout’ and these breakouts run in cycles. A cycle typically lasts for 6 weeks or more which is known as chronic hives.

So, a breakout of hives can appear on one part of the body and then disappear only to be replaced by another outbreak on a different part of the body.

Symptoms of hives

This rash appears as a series of swollen red spots which have a raised, white centre. Each of these is surrounded by a red, itchy border. These patches or crops of spots usually develop in 6 week cycles.

Causes of hives

The main cause of hives is a chemical released by the body called histamine. Histamine is a protein in the body which forms part of an allergic reaction to certain substances and foods. Examples of these include peanuts, shellfish and milk. This chemical is released on many occasions which can make it difficult to determine what has caused the allergic reaction in your baby. But possible triggers include:

  • Known allergens such as pollen and animal fur (cats and dogs). So, your baby may develop a reaction if he/she strokes the cat.
  • Insect bites and/or stings: your baby may develop a reaction to a bee sting which results in an outbreak of hives.
  • Changes in temperature: a sudden change in temperature can trigger a reaction, e.g. your baby’s skin overheats after being in the cold.
  • Illness or disease: A cold or viral infection can cause an outbreak of hives.
  • Medication: some forms of medication such as antibiotics can cause your baby to develop hives.
  • Other allergies: if your baby has an allergy such as hay fever then he/she may also develop hives.

Treatment of hives

This involves giving your baby a cool (not cold) bath to reduce the temperature of his/her skin. This will also wash away any of the allergen which caused the rash such as pollen.

Failing that, place cold compresses on your baby’s skin.

You can dab calamine lotion on the rash with a cotton wool ball to help sooth it. Dress your baby in loose, cotton clothing.

These are usually effective at treating hives and help to prevent further outbreaks.

Home based treatment usually works at clearing up an outbreak of hives but if not then visit your GP. He or she will be able to prescribe anti-histamines or a stronger form of medication such as a steroid cream.

Complications of hives

If your baby has a severe outbreak of hives or develops complications such as difficulty in breathing then seek urgent medical advice.

The risk is that an outbreak of hives can occur in the throat which causes it to swell and so impair breathing. Signs of this include wheezing, difficulty swallowing or breathing or a swollen throat and/or tongue. Fainting can occur in a few rare cases. There is a risk of asphyxiation so see a doctor instantly if this occurs. This can also be a sign of anaphylactic shock which is potentially fatal if not treated immediately.

Most cases of hives respond well to treatment but complications can occur in a few cases.

Prevention of hives

Can hives be prevented? Hives are usually caused by an external source such as pollen, dog or cat fur and certain foods so look at avoiding these.

For example, if you know what types of foods are likely to cause hives in your baby then remove these from his/her diet.

This is a little bit more difficult if you have a pet, e.g. cat or dog which your baby has developed an allergic reaction to. You may have to look at keeping the two of them apart until the condition gets better.

If you need further information, then speak to your health visitor or GP.

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