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What causes hives?

What are hives? I periodically break out in what I always thought was acne, but recently I saw a dermatologist who said it looked like I have hives. She was pretty vague about what this meant, but she kept referring to hives. What should I do to treat them, and can they be cured?
Hives, also known as urticaria, are a skin reaction that produces red, itchy raise patches that come and go. The can also change in size and move around. Classically they are a sign of an allergic reaction. When patients break out in them its often because they just ate a food or drug, or were stung by a bee they were allergic to. When patient's develop hives due to an allergy, its a sign that person should avoid that substance to prevent a more serious life threatening allergic reaction. On the other hand, hives can also be due to non-allergic causes. This is especially true in patient who develop them for no apparent reason and the persist for months. There are many causes of chronic urticaria such as emotional stress, but that vast majority of cases are idiopathic (unknown cause). All urticaria is caused by the release of the substance histamine into the blood stream and surrounding effected tissue. The treatment for both long standing and newly formed urticaria initially is the same. They usually cannot be cured. Patients can take one of a variety of antihistamines that are currently sold such as Loratadine (Claritin). Only your the doctor you see for your hives can tell you for sure which treatment is best for you. Good luck.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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