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The Itches and Scratches of Hives

The Itches and Scratches of Hives

A case of the hives. It’s itchy. It drives us crazy. It often appears when the dark days of winter are done and springtime arrives, since sunlight is one of the things that aggravates this skin condition.

Whether it arises in children or in adults, those itchy, raised, red patches on skin are very common, and unfortunately, can be quite annoying. The good news – especially for our littlest ones, who have a hard time resisting the temptation to scratch – is that a case of the hives usually doesn’t last long.

“Multiple factors – including sunlight, stress, and an allergic reaction to food and medicine – can cause hives,” explained board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Danilo Del Campo, MD, FAAD.

“Hives are usually harmless and temporary,” Del Campo continued. “A single hive tends to last for a few minutes to a few hours. Most hives clear within 24 hours.”

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has a video available at both its website and on its Youtube channel that demonstrates ways to deal with hives. It’s part of the AAD’s “Video of the Month Series” designed to offer tips on caring for skin, hair and nails. 

Here’s a summary of advice provided by Del Campo:

– Soothe the itch with a cool, damp washcloth, anti-itch cream or lotion, or colloidal oatmeal baths.

– Try not to scratch! Keeping a child’s fingernails cut short when experiencing the hives may help to reduce the skin damage that can be caused by intense scratching.

– Gently bathe using warm water. You want to be very gentle. Avoid rubbing the itchy areas with a washcloth, loofah or mesh sponge. 

– Use fragrance-free products. “Unscented” isn’t enough; an “unscented” product contains fragrances that have been covered up so you are unable to smell it. Because an “unscented” product still contains the fragrances, it can still irritate the skin. Opt instead for “fragrance-free” soaps and shower gels.

– Dress your child in loose-fitting, 100-percent cotton clothing. This will help reduce contact irritation.

– Track those hives. If your child gets hives often, tracking when it happens, and what he or she has been exposed to, can help pinpoint the cause.

Del Campo said to see a dermatologist if these tips don’t bring relief or if the hives stick around longer than expected. In certain very rare situations, hives can be part of a more serious emergency situation, so both children and adults with this skin condition should be watched until it’s clear it’s just a minor case of the dreaded itchiness.

“Get immediate medical care or go to the nearest emergency room if you have hives along with any of the following: Problems swallowing; feeling light-headed or faint; have swelling in your mouth or throat; or have a racing heart, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing,” Del Campo added.

About The Author

Kara Bachman

Kara Bachman is a Managing Editor for Parents & Kids. She's also a book editor, former newspaper reporter, and is author of the humor essay collection, "Kissing the Crisis," which deals with the zanier aspects of parenting, relationships and turning 40. She's read her work on NPR radio and over 1,500 items have appeared in dozens of literary and commercial publications, including The Writer, The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and, Dogster, Mississippi Magazine, American Fitness and many more. She's a New Orleans native, but lived for over a dozen years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including during 2005 when her house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. She's a mom to two teenagers.

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