Can hives be a sign of something serious

Can hives be a sign of something serious?

For no apparent reason, you notice red, and itchy bumps on your skin. This can be a result of hives. 

It is a common skin issue that most of the time does not have a clear cause. Hives can be caused by many things you might not expect including stress and exercise and an underlying health condition.

Most of these unexpected causes for hives are not serious but sometimes it can be a sign of something serious. 

You will get to know what hives are, what causes them, whether hives can be a sign of something serious, and other relevant issues related to hives in this article so, please stick around to the end.

What are hives?

Hives (also called urticaria) are an itchy reaction on your skin. They are skin rashes that appear as red welts on the skin that may itch, burn, or even sting.

Hives can affect anyone; you can get them regardless of your age or gender, even though some carry a higher risk for hives. 

They occur when a chemical, histamine, is released into your body. Hives can appear on any part of your body. they can be pinprick-sized bumps or large raised areas that cover an entire limb. Hives often appear red or pink on white or light skin.

People with darker skin might have hives that are slightly lighter or slightly darker than the skin surrounding them. They are often caused by an allergic reaction to food, products, and environmental substances. The allergy causes depend on individual allergic reactions.

What causes hives?

Hives are a very common skin reaction that may come from some unexpected sources. Some causes you would possibly not have thought of are:

Colds and viral infections

Hives can sometimes be caused by your immune system fighting colds and other viral infections. These hives often appear as you start to feel better after your cold or viral infection. They are most common in children but can happen to anyone.


A raise in your internal body temperature can be triggered by stress. This can cause the release of adrenalin and other chemicals that might trigger hives.

Stress hives tend to be located on the face, neck, chest, and arms. They’re common in people with eczema, allergies, or sensitive skin.

Changes in temperature

Sudden changes in temperature in your current location can cause hives. Going into a steamy shower or suddenly entering a swimming pool are just examples of how changes in temperature can cause hives.

You move from a cold place to a hot place and vice versa. This can cause histamine to be released and hives to form. Hives that form in response to temperature (cold exposure) are called cold urticaria. A red and itchy area of skin often forms around these hives.

Bacterial infections 

Bacterial infections like a streptococcal sore throat or urinary tract infections also can sometimes trigger hives as your body reacts to the bacteria.

These hives will eventually go away as the antibiotics help your body fight the infection. They might peel before healing completely.

Chronic conditions such as lupus

Hives that last for extended periods such as more than 6 weeks might be a sign of an autoimmune condition like lupus, type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.

These hives will not go away on their own. It is advisable to make a medical appointment to get this type of hive checked out and see if a chronic condition is a cause.

Tight clothing

Tight clothing can cause friction that leads to irritation and hives. Tight-fitting clothes can cause friction and exert pressure on your skin, and this will subsequently worsen existing hives or cause new eruptions.


Exercising can cause your body to release a chemical called acetylcholine which can affect your skin cells and cause irritation and hives.

Exercise hives are known as exercise-induced urticaria. Some people have additional symptoms alongside hives like shortness of breath, headache, flushing, and stomach cramps.

Inflammation of the blood vessels

Vasculitis (a condition in which your blood vessels get inflamed) can cause painful hives. They can leave a bruise on your skin and last for several days. Vasculitis may be a serious medical condition that needs treatment by a medical professional.


Certain medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and opioids can cause an allergic reaction that leads to hives.

Hives following medication could be the primary sign of a medical emergency called anaphylaxis. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include shortness of breath, wheezing, vomiting, and loss of consciousness.

What are the common causes of hives?

Hives are mostly caused by allergies that can be identified. Some of these allergens include

Eggs, shellfish, milk, peanuts, citrus, berries, plants like poison ivy, pollen, latex, wool, polyester, other kinds of fabric, grass, bite from insects, mold, detergents, dye, etc

What are the symptoms of hives?

Here are some symptoms of hives

  • Painful swelling of the lips, eyelids and inside the throat
  • Severe itching
  • Welts that vary in size, change form and appear and fade repeatedly as the reaction runs its course
  • Batches of red or skin-coloured welts (wheals), which can appear anywhere on the body

Can hives be a sign of something serious?

Although the occurrence of hives can be annoying, it is nothing to be serious about. It is simply a temporary reaction to an allergy.

Hives can also be a sign of a bacterial infection like a urinary tract infection or streptococcal sore throat. While most bacterial infections are not life-threatening, they can become serious if left untreated.

How are hives diagnosed?

An allergist (a doctor who specializes in treating allergies) can test you for hives. This might include blood work and urine tests to look for chemicals in your body that can tell the allergist what is causing your hives.

Sometimes, a specific cause isn’t found. In this case, your hives will be diagnosed as idiopathic urticaria. The word “idiopathic” means unknown.

In this case, your doctor will still be able to help you with a treatment plan, but you won’t be able to tell what to avoid to prevent hives in the future.

Can hives be treated?

Hives can be treated but the treatment of hives will depend on the severity of your hives and the cause. 

Corticosteroids, antibiotics, anti-itch lotions, and antihistamines are some of the treatments used for hives

The takeaway from this article

Hives are something common and they usually go away. You do not need to be concerned when you have hives but if they persist, it is best to go to a doctor and seek help or identify the possible causes and avoid them. 


Michael Sarfo
Content Creator at Wapomu

Michael Sarfo is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon. He is a content creator for and a writer for Wapomu

Dr. Solomon Kwesi Otchere (Pharmacist)

Dr. Solomon Kwesi Otchere is a Pharmacist by profession in Ghana. He is passionate about informed healthy lifestyle and diet options necessary for preventing many disease conditions. He also empowers patients and clients to make savvy choices on medications needful to promote good health.

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