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Hives (Urticaria) and Food Allergies

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Updated February 06, 2008

Hives (Urticaria)

Hives are a common food allergy symptom.

Photo © A.D.A.M.

Overview:

Hives, or urticaria, are a common food allergy symptom which can be triggered by reactions to a variety of foods. A raised, itchy, bumpy rash that superficially resembles insect bites, hives can appear in small clusters or densely over a large area of the body. Short-term episodes of hives are known as "acute urticaria," while hives lasting more than six weeks are considered chronic.

Food Allergies Are Not The Only Cause Of Hives:

In addition to food allergies, some other causes of hives include medication or latex allergies, infections, exercise, heat, and cold. Hives can also appear for long periods of time and for no discernible cause, in which case they are called "chronic idiopathic urticaria."

How Hives Are Treated:

The primary treatments for hives are antihistamines. Over-the-counter antihistamines, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), are commonly used for short-term treatment of hives. Newer "second-generation" antihistamines, such as Xyzal (levocetirizine) and Clarinex (desloratadine), are often used because they tend to cause less drowsiness. In severe or prolonged cases, doctors may prescribe short courses of corticosteroids (such as cortisone or prednisone) to reduce inflammation. Epinephrine may also be used if acute hives are accompanied by symptoms of anaphylaxis.

What To Do If You Suspect A Food Of Causing Hives:

Ask your doctor before you stop eating any food you're not sure you're allergic to. Your doctor may want to perform allergy testing before you eliminate foods from your diet. However, once the cause of your hives has been determined, avoiding the trigger is an effective way to prevent further outbreaks.

Home Treatment For Hives and When To Call a Doctor:

Uncomplicated hives over a small area of the body can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines to help reduce swelling and itching. Hives that cover a large area of the body, appear after starting a new medicine or food, do not respond to over-the-counter antihistamines after several doses, or cause severe discomfort warrant a call to your doctor. Your doctor may want you to come in or may give you instructions for home treatment.

Hives that are accompanied by breathing difficulty, changes in heart rate, or other symptoms of anaphylaxis are rare, but represent an emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately and take epinephrine, if your allergist has prescribed it for you.

Sources:

Adkinson, N. Franklin, et al. Middleton's Allergy: Principles & Practice. 6th Ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.

American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology. "Tips to Remember: Allergic Skin Conditions." Internet Resource. 4 Feb. 2008.

DuBuske, Lawrence M. "Levocetirizine: The Latest Treatment Option for Allergic Rhinitis and Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria." Allergy and Asthma Proceedings. Nov./Dec. 2007 28(6): 724-34 (11). 5 Feb. 2008.

DuBuske, Lawrence M. "Desloratadine for Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria: A Review of Clinical Efficacy." American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2007. 8(5): 271-83. 4 Feb. 2008.

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