Help, I’m breaking out in hives! What’s causing them— and what can I do?
—Edna Hives, a collection of red, often itchy (but otherwise harmless) welts on the skin, can erupt within minutes or up to several hours after exposure to a trigger—which can make it tough to figure out the cause. The most frequent ones include allergic reactions to medications (especially the penicillin family of antibiotics, muscle relaxants, opiates, aspirin and ibuprofen); foods, most often fish, tree nuts, shellfish or just contact with certain raw fruits or raw seafood (even if you weren’t allergic to them before); insect bites, like bedbugs, mites, fleas and bees; and latex (gloves or condoms). Less common causes include physical stimuli like heat, cold and pressure applied to the skin, or increased body heat due to exercise, hot baths or even strong emotions.
If you think an allergy is to blame, your doctor can do allergy testing. Still have no idea? Don’t panic: Welts usually go away on their own within 24 hours, and to relieve the itch, you can apply cool compresses or take an over-the-counter antihistamine. If you haven’t found the trigger and your hives last for more than six weeks, see your doctor. It could still be a more benign cause, but she can look into other causes like celiac disease, hypothyroidism and lupus.