My son has been getting outbreaks of hives. We have watched what he has been eating and we really cannot narrow it down to any specific food. What can cause hives?
Many other things can cause hives, technically known as urticaria. We tend to think of allergies as the culprit when hives break out, but other kinds of things may trigger hives, too.
Here is a partial list:
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies (such as to pets, etc.)
- Allergies or reactions to medications (reactions to penicillin and related drugs are fairly common)
- Allergies to insect bites
- Heat, cold or sunlight
- Some viral infections and other diseases
You may need to see a pediatric allergist to help determine what is triggering your son’s hives. In most cases — called acute hives — the cause can be identified and the source can be studiously avoided in the future. Occasionally, hives continue for six weeks or more and it is difficult or impossible to ferret out the cause. This is called chronic hives. However, acute hives typically go away within a matter of days, though they sometimes last a few weeks.
For treatment, doctors usually do not recommend putting anything on the hives. Oral antihistamines often help ease the itching. Over-the-counter antihistamines, in children’s strength, are typically tried first. If those do not work, prescription antihistamines may be required. Antihistamines make most children drowsy, but a small minority have what is called a paradoxical reaction and become stimulated or excitable.
In rare cases, hives that are due to an allergy may be accompanied by a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that is called an anaphylactic reaction. It is a medical emergency and you should summon medical help immediately. An anaphylactic reaction almost always occurs within the first few hours of exposure to the allergen. Observe the child for swelling around the mouth and throat, increasing distress and difficulty breathing or swallowing.