Hives or urticaria is a common skin condition. It looks like raised white, pink or red spots that form a very itchy rash. The rash often comes up on a child’s chest, tummy or back, but can occur anywhere. It’s a good idea to see your GP if you think your child has hives.
Causes of hives or urticaria
Hives or urticaria can develop when the body releases histamines as part of an allergic reaction. The histamines make small blood vessels in the skin open up and leak fluid, which forms raised red blotches on the skin surface.
Your child might have an allergic reaction to:
- certain types of foods – for example, nuts, eggs, shellfish, strawberries, tomatoes and cows milk
- food colourings, spices and preservatives
- medicines – for example, penicillin
- insect bites
- other substances.
Viral infections like those that cause colds or diarrhoea can also cause hives in children.
Your child might also develop itchy skin (with or without hives spots) because of heat, or tight-fitting or scratchy clothing, particularly if your child has eczema (dermatitis). This is a kind of physical irritation of sensitive skin, not an allergy.
Hives are very common but not contagious.
Symptoms of hives or urticaria
It might take days or weeks for hives to develop.
Your child will probably complain of a really bad itch and lumps. You’ll see small, raised, white, pink or red spots that can merge together to form large patches anywhere on the skin.
True hives last between a few hours and 24 hours. When they go, there’s no scarring.
When to see your doctor about hives or urticaria
You should see your doctor if:
- your child’s lips or tongue swells
- your child has trouble breathing or is wheezing
- your child is generally unwell or has a fever in addition to the hives
- the hives come up straight after your child takes any sort of medicine
- the hives keep coming back for longer than six weeks.
Treatment for hives
Rubbing and scratching the hives will make them worse. Try to get your child to stop scratching.
To relieve the itch, you can apply lots of calamine lotion to the hives and let it dry. Putting cold compresses on the hives or giving your child a cool shower or bath can also help. A spoonful of bicarbonate of soda added to a lukewarm bath might also help to ease the symptoms.
Your doctor might suggest using antihistamine medication until the hives get better. It’s best to take the antihistamine regularly until the rash clears. Don’t give sedating antihistamine medicines to your child if she’s under two years of age.
If the hives keep coming back after your child stops taking the antihistamine, see your GP.
In severe cases of hives, the GP might prescribe a short course of steroid tablets.
Prevention of hives or urticaria
Try to work out what has caused your child’s allergic reaction. This way, your child can keep away from it in the future. If you’re fairly sure about the cause of the hives, talk to your doctor about getting a skin-prick test to make certain.
In at least one in two cases of hives, it isn’t possible to identify the cause. And it isn’t helpful to do allergy testing when there are lots of possible causes.
If your child keeps getting hives, your GP might refer you to a paediatric dermatologist or immunologist.