Hives and Angioedema: What You Need to Know

When the body detects pollens or other allergens in the environment, it reacts by releasing histamine and other chemicals into the body. Histamine has one main way of making itself known: inflammation. Where the skin is concerned, allergic inflammation leads to eczema, hives, and angioedema. These skin ailments are tell-tale manifestations of a pollen allergy, food allergy (dairy allergy, egg allergy, wheat allergy, etc.), or allergic reaction to some other element in the environment (such as a cleaning product) that may have your body overreacting.
Here’s a closer look at hives and angioedema—swollen skin welts that can cause both pain and itching.


Hives and Angioedema Symptoms

Hives are also referred to as “urticaria.” They usually don’t usually last long, but some rare cases last for months or even years (sometimes going away but reemerging at intervals). Acute urticaria is diagnosed after several weeks of symptoms. Beyond that, it is known as “chronic urticaria.” Common symptoms of hives include the following.

  • raised spots several millimeters to a few inches in size
  • flesh-colored or red
  • extremely itchy
  • spots could change size quickly
  • spots could disappear and reappear in another place

The main difference between hives and angioedema is that hives affect just the surface skin layers while angioedema affects tissues beneath the skin. Also, while hives are generally itchy, angioedema may or may not be itchy but is nearly always tender and/or painful to the touch. Also, angioedema tends to occur around the eyes and lips.

Treating Hives and Angioedema

Mild cases of hives and angioedema may go untreated and resolve themselves on their own. However, if the condition causes intense itching and unbearable discomfort, seek help from a physician. You should also consult a physician (such as an allergy doctor) if hives last for more than a few days.

Managing Hives and Angioedema

Here are a few ideas for managing the discomfort of hives and angioedema.

  • Put a cold compress on affected areas.
  • Bathe in cool water (adding 2 cups of apple cider vinegar to the bath water is a common recommendation)
  • Apply topical anti-itch creams

For permanent relief of long-lasting or recurring allergy-related hives and angioedema, consider allergy immunotherapy either through allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy drops (an oral alternative to allergy shots).

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.