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Hives are slightly raised, red patches of skin called wheals (or welts). They occur in groups on any part of the body, and can look like mosquito bites. They are often itchy, but sometimes also sting. The medical word for hives is urticaria (er-tuh-care-ia).
Hives are usually a sign of an allergic reaction to things like food or an insect sting. Hives are very common – one out of every five people will have hives at some time in their life.
Treatment includes medicines and avoiding known triggers. The triggers may be different for each child.
If your child has hives, they may have raised round wheals that look like mosquito bites. The wheals are red on the outside and white in the middle.
Hives can look or feel unpleasant, but usually they are harmless.
Sometimes children have a more serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
Call an ambulance immediately if your child has symptoms of anaphylaxis.
If your child has experienced anaphylactic reactions in the past, you may be advised to have an adrenaline autoinjector (e.g. an EpiPen) with you at all times. Your child could also wear a medical alert pendant or bracelet to let other people know what may cause them to have an allergic
reaction. Discuss this with your GP.
Hives are a skin rash usually caused by an allergic reaction. Hives can occasionally occur without a trigger, but usually happen when the immune system responds to a substance (such as a food or insect venom) as if it were toxic (poisonous). Hives occur when blood
plasma leaks from the blood vessels into the skin. This happens when a chemical called histamine is released.
The following can cause histamine release and hives:
For most children, each attack of hives will become more severe and intense if they are repeatedly exposed to the same trigger.
Usually tests are not performed because often it's impossible to find out what triggers hives in children.
Most of the time, hives can be safely managed at home, without the need to see a doctor. A pharmacist might provide you with some antihistamine medication for relief of symptoms during an episode. The best treatment for hives is to avoid the cause or trigger, however this is not
You can help treat your child’s hives by:
If your child continues to have hives for more than six weeks, take them to see your GP.
Treatment for severe or frequent hives may include:
If at any time the hives are associated with other symptoms (high fever, bruising, purple skin discolouration or joint pains), your child should be seen by a doctor.
How effective are antihistamine medications?
Antihistamine medication won't treat existing hives, but it will prevent hives from getting worse and prevent new hives from erupting. If your child is exposed to a known trigger, it is best to give them antihistamine medication as soon as you can.
Are there any creams I can put on my child's hives to stop
Talk to your pharmacist about creams and lotions that may help reduce the intensity of the itching. The most effective creams will include antihistamine.
Should I take my child to see an allergy specialist to find
out the cause of his hives?
If you are unable to determine the trigger, it is useful to keep a food and activity diary. An allergy specialist can also perform further testing to determine the most likely triggers for your child's hives.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine and Dermatology departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed July 2018.
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