What are hives (urticaria)?
Hives or urticaria are common allergic reactions. They are itchy, elevated, red blotches of varying size that appear suddenly and disappear mysteriously after hours to days. Hives may be associated with dramatic swelling reactions; swelling of the lips, eyes, and ears can suddenly and grotesquely alter the appearance of an allergy victim.
Hives are red, itchy welts on the skin that come and go over the course of minutes or hours. All types of hives can cause itching. They usually form on the skin but sometimes hives form in the soft tissue of the mouth, eyes and throat.
Hives are a sign that the whole body is experiencing a hypersensitivity reaction. Hives occur when the body's capillaries and tiny veins get leaky. Fluid escaping from some of these blood vessels becomes trapped in parts of the skin and lining membranes of the body, causing localized swelling. The body's immune system is designed to produce various factors to fight foreign substances, including bacteria and viruses that the immune system perceives as threatening. An allergic response occurs when the body's immune system over-responds, or is hypersensitive to particles known as allergens. Common allergens include plant pollens, molds, dust mites, animal dander, industrial chemicals, food, medicines and insect venom. More than 10% of people get hives. Important components of the immune system are the antibodies produced by lymph tissue. A key player in the allergic response is the antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is overproduced in certain people, usually those with inherited susceptibility.
During an allergic attack, these antibodies attach to cells known as mast cells, which are generally concentrated in the lungs, skin and mucous membranes. Once IgE binds to mast cells, these cells are programmed to release a number of chemicals. One of these chemicals, histamine, opens the blood vessels and causes skin redness and swollen membranes. Histamine causes many of the symptoms associated with allergies. Hives are a common allergic reaction involving the skin.