They can appear suddenly and go away just as fast, be tiny or big as a plate, move from one place to another, last for a few hours, a week or even longer, and itch or burn like crazy.
These red raised welts are hives, also known as urticaria. And, if you’ve ever experienced hives, you may wonder what is triggering them.
“It’s a common condition,” says Madelyn Boney, a nurse practitioner at Aurora Health Care. “About 20% of people develop hives at some point in their lifetime. Often the cause is an allergic reaction, but sometimes hives are triggered by other factors.”
Boney shares what can trigger hives and what you can do about them:
- Allergy to foods such as shellfish, nuts or eggs, certain medications or shots, pets, pollen or insect bites: Coming in contact with an allergen releases histamines, which can cause hives. Identifying and avoiding the allergen can help prevent flare-ups.
- Hives can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, so seek emergency care if your symptoms also include trouble breathing or swelling of the tongue or throat.
- Anxiety or stress: When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol and other stress hormones that can trigger hives. Make time for yourself to do things you enjoy, practice relaxation techniques, get regular exercise or talk with a professional for other coping strategies.
- Physical stimuli: A subtype of hives known as physical urticaria is due to external factors. To help keep these outbreaks under control, identify and try to limit:
- Exercise or excessive sweating
- Sun or cold exposure
- Skin pressure, like from a tight waistband or carrying a heavy backpack
- Infections: Your body’s immune response to a virus or bacteria can cause hives. Treating the infection usually resolves the hives too.
- Autoimmune conditions: Occasionally, a disorder like lupus or thyroid problems may cause chronic hives (i.e., hives that go on for more than six weeks). See your doctor to determine if there may be an underlying condition.
“Sometimes the cause of hives isn’t always clear,” Boney says. “But because hives can disrupt your daily life and interfere with your sleep, it’s important to talk with your provider to rule out any other health concern that may be the reason they’re occurring. Getting the right treatment, which may include antihistamines to provide relief from the itchiness, can help you get back to doing what you love the most.”
This article originally appeared on health enews.