Hives and angioedema

Hives — also known as urticaria (ur-tih-KAR-e-uh) — is a skin reaction that causes itchy welts, which can range in size from small spots to large blotches several inches in diameter. Hives can be triggered by exposure to certain foods, medications or other substances.

Angioedema is a related type of swelling that affects deeper layers in your skin, often around your eyes and lips. In most cases, hives and angioedema are harmless and don't leave any lasting marks, even without treatment.

The most common treatment for hives and angioedema is antihistamine medication. Serious angioedema can be life-threatening if swelling causes your throat or tongue to block your airway.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

The welts associated with hives can be:

  • Red or flesh-colored
  • Intensely itchy
  • Roughly oval or shaped like a worm
  • A few millimeters to several inches across

Most hives go away within 24 hours. Chronic hives can last for months or years.


Angioedema is a reaction similar to hives that affects deeper layers of your skin. It most commonly appears around your eyes, cheeks or lips. Angioedema and hives can occur separately or at the same time.

Signs and symptoms of angioedema include:

  • Large, thick, firm welts
  • Swelling and redness
  • Pain or warmth in the affected areas

When to see a doctor

You can usually treat mild cases of hives or angioedema at home. See your doctor if your symptoms continue for more than a few days. Seek emergency care if you feel your throat is swelling or if you're having trouble breathing.

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