Getting Hives Under Control

Urticaria, or hives, affect about 20% of people at some point. Many substances or situations can trigger the condition and typically present as an itchy skin patch that turns red and swollen. When hives occur, should a pharmacist or doctor be contacted for help?


Acute and chronic hives

The body stores something called histamine inside cells. When the immune system recognizes a threat, histamine and other chemicals are released, causing hives. There are 2 types of hives: acute and chronic. An allergic reaction to different substances often causes acute hives. Animal dander, pollen, medication, certain foods, and insect bites can all trigger hives. Stress, extreme cold or heat, and exercise can also cause the condition to develop. Chronic hives are usually caused by infections or medical conditions like lupus. Hives are not contagious.

Making the call

There are some very clear indications for seeing a doctor when hives develop. If the patient is experiencing hives for the first time, the doctor will want to diagnose the exact cause. Skin and blood allergy tests may be run to determine if a specific environmental exposure was the culprit. On the other side of the spectrum, a person experiencing recurrent or ongoing hives for a week or more without relief may need to see the doctor to discuss different treatment options. Lastly, if the allergic reaction is life-threatening, such as swelling of the airways or lips, a doctor should be contacted by calling 911 to reach emergency services.

The role of the pharmacist

People who have had hives before will often head to a pharmacy for the necessary over-the-counter (OTC) medication, such as an antihistamine. Depending on the cause of the hives and the extent of the rash, the pharmacist can recommend the best treatment. Sometimes, when the allergic reaction is localized, such as from an insect bite, a topical preparation can help. The pharmacist can discuss different OTC treatment options for reducing swelling, itching, and pain. If a prescription is needed, the pharmacist can fill the medication once called in by the doctor.

Prevent future outbreaks

Having hives is never fun, so many people want to learn how to prevent a recurrence. In addition to filling prescriptions, many pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge and can offer health education on such topics. Depending on the probable cause of the hives, the pharmacist can advise on how to avoid the same problem happening again.

Relief is possible

Hives are common but can be uncomfortable and often require treatment for relief. A pharmacist is an OTC and prescription medication expert who can share valuable information about which products are most effective for treating itchy hives. A doctor is needed for emergencies and when the cause of hives is unknown.


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