Your infant may have developed bumps on their skin for no apparent reason. These may be hives, called urticaria in the medical world.

These raised patches of skin may be red and swollen and disappear within hours, days, or weeks. They’re usually very itchy. Other rashes in infants may appear similar to hives.

Hives generally appear if your child has come into contact with an allergen, an infection, a bug bite, or a bee sting. If your child is old enough, medications like antihistamines can help treat the hives. They may also go away on their own.

The general symptoms of hives on infants are:

  • varying sizes of raised bumps or patches on the skin that may be red or pink in color with white centers, called wheals
  • swelling of the skin
  • itching of the skin
  • stinging or burning

Hives may look like bug bites. They can be isolated to one place on your infant’s body or be spread throughout the body. The wheals may be anywhere between a half an inch or a few inches in size.

Common locations of hives are on the face, hands, feet, and genitals, but they can appear anywhere on the body. Hives may disappear in one place and appear on another part of the body just a short time later.

Your infant may experience hives for different amounts of time. Acute hives can last anywhere from a few hours to weeks. Sometimes, hives can last more than six weeks. These are known as chronic hives.

Hives can affect more than just the surface of the skin. Symptoms beyond the skin include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain in the abdomen

Be mindful that hives may also be one of the signs of a more serious condition called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.

While uncommon in babies, anaphylactic shock is a very severe reaction and may result in your infant having breathing difficulties, throat swelling, and loss of consciousness, among other symptoms. It requires immediate medical treatment.

Hives occur when your infant’s body releases histamine in reaction to contact with something external or internal. Causes can include:

  • Viral infections. A cold, upper respiratory infection, or gastrointestinal virus can trigger hives. Infants and children are more likely to get acute hives from viruses than adults.
  • Bacterial infections.
  • Foods. Your infant may react to a food they come into contact with or ingest. Watch out for immediate allergic reactions from foods like nuts and eggs.
  • Medications. Common medications that can trigger hives include antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Environmental factors. Cold and hot environments or changes to the environment can trigger hives.
  • Bug bites or bee stings.
  • Other allergens. These include pollen and irritants like chemicals and fragrances.
  • Autoimmune conditions.

Remember that it’s not always possible to tell why your infant developed hives.

Keep an eye on your infant’s rash, and contact your doctor before treating your infant with any medications. Most medications don’t have dosing instructions for infants. To make sure a medication is safe and to find out how much to administer, talk with your doctor .

Medical treatments

Oral antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), are available over the counter to treat hives. These medications calm the histamine release in the body.

Your doctor can advise you on whether it’s safe to give these medications to your infant, as they’re not approved for use in children under age 2. You may need to administer the antihistamine a few times a day for several days to relieve the symptoms of hives.

Occasionally, steroids may be used if your infant’s hives don’t respond to antihistamines.

Your child may need more immediate medical treatments if the hives cause serious symptoms like breathing problems, wheezing, or the closing of the throat.

These symptoms require emergency medical care. They may result in your infant needing higher-level prescription medication or even hospitalization.

Home remedies

Your doctor may recommend you treat your infant’s hives at home. Hives will often go away on their own and without any other treatments.

You may be able to treat hives at home by:

  • keeping your infant away from anything that may have triggered the rash. As hives in infants are most often caused by a virus, this may not be necessary or possible.
  • using a cool compress to relieve discomfort caused by the hives

If the home remedies don’t calm the hives, contact your doctor again.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if your infant develops hives.

call the doctor if your baby’s hives:
  • are accompanied by symptoms like breathing difficulty. This is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care.
  • are accompanied by wheezing, faintness, or a change in blood pressure. These are signs of anaphylactic shock. Seek immediate medical care.
  • coughing
  • are accompanied by a fever or other flu-like symptoms. If the child is under 3 months old and has a fever, seek immediate medical care.
  • occur with vomiting
  • are on multiple parts of their body
  • last for a few days
  • started after coming into contact with food
  • reappear frequently

Hives in babies can appear similar to other rashes commonly seen in infants, such as heat rash or other rashes caused by viruses.

If your baby has a rash and seems itchy or uncomfortable, see your doctor for a diagnosis, particularly before giving any medications. Your doctor can conduct a physical exam and ask questions about your infant to diagnose the condition.

Hives in babies are most often caused by viruses and resolve without any treatment.

Hives that last several weeks or that recur frequently may require more tests to diagnose the cause. Your doctor may recommend your infant undergo blood tests or ask you to track your infant’s exposure to outside allergens.