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Hives (urticaria) is a Rash consisting of blotches or localised swellings (wheals) of the Skin, caused by an allergic reaction. Usually extremely itchy, they may occur in a small area or cover virtually the entire body.
The allergic reaction (produced by the dilation of capillaries in the Skin brought on by vasoactive mediators, like histamine) is commonly to a food or a drug, although injections of insect bites, pollen, serum and certain physical factors (cold, intense light, Stress and heat) may also be causative.
Usually crops of hives come and go, remaining at one site for several hours and then reappearing at another. Commonly, an acute attack subsides spontaneously in a week or two. However, chronic cases of hives may last for long periods of time. Because no cure exists for hives, treatment focuses primarily on suppressing the symptoms. Identifying and avoiding the allergen is most important, while antihistamines and/or corticosteroids (for more severe cases) are considered helpful in relieving the Itching and reducing the swelling of this condition.
1. Nicol M: Vitamins and Immunity, Allerg Immunol, 25(2), Feb 1993, p 70-73.