Hives Overview

What could have caused the hives on this woman's face? See more pictures of skin problems.
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Having hives can make you feel like you've been the all-you-can-eat buffet for a group of really hungry mosquitoes. And, as if having really itchy welts isn't bad enough, hives can burn and sting. Just what makes these nasty bumps appear?

Hives, also referred to as "urticaria," can be acute or chronic. If you have hives that last less than six weeks, they are acute; if they last more than six weeks, they are chronic. In general, acute hives are easier to treat because they tend to have common causes. Chronic hives, which are less common than acute hives, are trickier to identify and treat [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

While most hives will go away on their own, some do not. So it can be a good idea to make an appointment with your family physician or dermatologist. Doctors can perform a number of tests to try to determine the cause of your hives, including blood tests and allergy skin tests [source: Mayo Clinic].

Sometimes what you think may be hives could be its cousin, angioedema. The main difference between the two conditions is that angioedema occurs deeper in your skin than hives do. It tends to cause swelling around your eyes and mouth but it can also affect your hands, feet and genitals. In rare cases, angioedema or hives can be dangerous because they can cause swelling in your throat, which in a severe case can interfere with your breathing. If you feel like your throat is swelling or closing up, you're finding it difficult to breathe or you're feeling lightheaded, you should seek emergency treatment [source: Mayo Clinic].

By now, besides feeling a little itchy, you're probably wondering what causes hives in the first place, and how to rid of get them if you get them. Keep reading to find out.