Symptoms and Signs of Hives and Angioedema in Adults

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/5/2022

Doctor's Notes on Hives and Angioedema

Hives and angioedema are reactions of the skin to histamines and other chemicals. Often, the release of these substances is due to an allergic reaction. However, there are many causes of hives and angioedema. In many cases, the specific cause cannot be determined, and the condition is termed idiopathic. Idiopathic hives and angioedema are very common. Common triggers of both hives and angioedema include:

Hives (medically known as urticaria) appear as wheals on the skin that are smooth, elevated, red, itchy patches of skin that often have a white center. Hives may be a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter anywhere on the body and often form welts. Hives typically appear suddenly and in several places. They may go away after a few hours and appear in another location on the body. 

Angioedema is similar to hives, only the welts are larger and form deeper in the skin, leading to severe swelling, usually in the face near the eyes and mouth.

What Is the Treatment for Hives and Angioedema?

Treatment for hives and angioedema varies depending on the severity of symptoms:

  • The mainstay of treatment for hives and angioedema is antihistamine medications, which can be obtained over-the-counter or by prescription. 
  • For severe cases, oral corticosteroid medication may be prescribed in the short term to relieve symptoms. 
  • Severe or anaphylactic attacks that cause hives and angioedema are managed with epinephrine injections as well as medications to support breathing.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.