Hives, or urticaria, is a common condition characterized by the sudden appearance of several pinkish-red itchy bumps on one’s skin. These welts can range from mildly annoying to downright painful. Fortunately, hives often go away quickly on their own without the need for treatment. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and various treatments are available to help the skin recover from this mysterious but ordinary skin condition.
While millions of people break out in hives each year, the reasons for these breakouts are not always clear. Doctors have a general sense of what causes hives, but the details are sometimes shrouded in mystery. Let’s explore some of the common and surprising causes and triggers of hives.
Our immune systems aim to protect our bodies from harmful foreign substances. But sometimes our bodies overreact, triggering an immune response when none is needed. This is known as an allergic reaction, and sometimes this reaction comes in the form of hives. People can be allergic to a number of foods, plants, materials, medications, and animal dander. Some of the most common allergies that cause hives include peanuts, shellfish, cat hair, latex, and insect bites. Of course, not all allergic responses are equal. Hives may only occur in those with a severe allergic reaction to a given substance, while others may only experience congestion or fatigue.
Recent research suggests that stress, both mental and physical, can also lead to or aggravate a breakout of hives. When we get severely stressed out for whatever reason, our body can react as if it were under attack from a physical threat, undergoing hormonal changes and sometimes expanding blood vessels to the point of leaking. Stress can also weaken our immune system, making us more susceptible to hives and other skin conditions and diseases. Stress hives may come and go quickly or linger for several weeks or more (known as chronic stress hives).
Speaking of stress, pregnancy is perhaps one of the most stressful periods of one’s life, both emotionally and physically. As such, it’s not uncommon for women to break out in hives while they’re pregnant. Generally speaking, pregnant women are more susceptible to breaking out in hives caused by allergies due to all the turbulence in their immune system. Hives may also result from physical pressure from the pregnancy itself. On rare occasions, pregnancy can also lead to pruritic urticarial papules and plaques (PUPP). These pregnancy hives occur near the abdomen and may spread further without treatment.
Exercising regularly is a healthy activity, but may come with some adverse side effects, including hives. Going for a run or lifting weights puts stress on the body, which, as mentioned above, can trigger an outbreak of hives. On top of that, wearing tight clothing while exercising can irritate the skin via friction and heat, resulting in rashes and hives. These hives are known as cholinergic urticaria, and they’re triggered not only by exercising but also by anything that heats up the body and causes it to sweat, such as hot showers, feelings of nervousness, or tight bandages. Fortunately, these types of hives typically go away shortly after the body as cooled down.
Hives may also arise as a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection. Even the common cold virus can lead to hives as one’s immune system works to fight off the infection. Urinary tract infections and strep throat are a couple examples of bacterial infections that may trigger chronic hives. The more serious the infection, the more severe the outbreak may be.
In many cases, there is little one can do to prevent hives from flaring up. That said, you can better guard against these outbreaks by knowing what factors may trigger hives on your skin. The causes described above only touch on some of these triggers, but hives may also come about from sitting for too long, getting too much sun, or staying out in the cold for too long. At Southeast Dermatology Specialists, we can help you determine what causes your hives so we can find the right solution for preventing those pesky plaques. Contact us to learn more about our services and providers.