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Hives are raised white, pink or red spots that form a very itchy rash. The rash usually comes up on a child’s chest, tummy or back.

Causes

Hives happen when histamines are released by the body as part of an allergic reaction. The histamines cause fluid to leak from small blood vessels under the skin, forming raised blotches.

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, preservatives, plants, drugs (for example, penicillin), insect bites and many other substances.

Hives might also be caused by viral or bacterial infections.

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. This is a kind of physical irritation of sensitive skin, not an allergy.

Hives are very common but not contagious. They’re also known as urticaria.

Symptoms

Your child will probably complain of a really bad itch. You’ll see raised white, pink or red spots that together form a rash, usually on your child’s chest, tummy or back.

Hives can be lots of tiny spots in a larger area of itchy skin. They can also form very large spots or ‘wheals’. 

Hives usually last for several hours then slowly get better.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if:

  • your child’s mouth or tongue swells or your child has trouble breathing
  • your child is generally unwell or has a fever in addition to the hives
  • the hives came up straight after your child took any sort of medicine
  • the hives haven’t gone away after 2-3 days.

Treatment

Scratching hives will make them worse. It’s great if you can distract your child and stop him scratching.

To relieve the itch, you can apply calamine lotion liberally 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 an antihistamine until the hives get better. Avoid giving your child antihistamines for more than a few days in a row without medical supervision. Don’t give sedating antihistamine medicines to your child if she’s under two years of age.

In severe cases of hives, your child might need steroids.

Prevention

Try to identify the cause of the allergy. This way, your child can keep away from it in the future. If you’re fairly sure about the cause of the hives, you might want to talk to your doctor about your child having skin-prick testing for this substance.

In many cases, it might be hard to work out what caused the hives. Allergy testing for multiple possible substances that could cause hives isn’t helpful.

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  • Last Updated 15-06-2011
  • Last Reviewed 13-04-2011
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