Hives usually aren’t a sign of a serious medical condition. But their sudden appearance may merit a trip to urgent care or the emergency room if they show up along with other symptoms.
Hives are itchy, raised patches, bumps, or blotchy areas of skin that can show up anywhere on your body. They usually appear red or pink on light colored skin, but the color will be less evident if you have Brown or Black skin.
Hives develop when your body releases a substance called histamine in response to a perceived threat, like a toxin or infection. But the body also sometimes releases histamine even though there isn’t a real threat. An allergic reaction to a bug bite, medication, or food can trigger this. Stress, sunlight, and changes in temperature can also trigger hives.
If hives are accompanied by symptoms like trouble breathing, you may need to get urgent care.
Here, we cover when to get medical attention for hives at an emergency room or urgent care center.
An ER is the right choice for any life threatening illness or injury. Along with hives, if you also have any shortness of breath, swelling in the throat, or wheezing, call emergency medical services or go to an ER immediately. This could be a sign of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
Other symptoms that can occur with hives and signal an emergency include:
- shortness of breath
- swelling or tightness in your throat
- trouble swallowing
- swelling of your face, lips, or tongue
- a sudden drop in blood pressure
- a rash that covers your entire body (full-body rash)
- a child who is limp, floppy, or not responding normally
If a doctor prescribed you an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) in the past for an allergy and you think you’re having a severe allergic reaction, you should use it to prevent anaphylaxis. It’s still important to go to the ER for an evaluation after using an EpiPen.
For mild cases of hives, you may get relief with first aid, such as:
- taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or cetirizine (Zyrtec) to reduce itchiness
- applying topical creams to soothe your skin, like hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or aloe vera
- applying a cool compress
- bathing in lukewarm water with colloidal oatmeal
If you know the underlying cause of hives, try to avoid that substance or trigger. Also, avoid scratching as much as possible. A pharmacist can give you advice about which OTC treatment can help with hives.
Most mild skin rashes aren’t a medical emergency and are manageable at home. Hives usually go away on their own in a few hours or days without leaving any marks or bruising.
You don’t usually have to get emergency treatment for a mild case of hives. However, you may still need medical attention from a primary care doctor, a dermatologist, or an allergist, especially if you don’t know what’s causing your hives.
Schedule an appointment with an allergist or dermatologist if you have:
- hives that occur almost daily for at least 6 weeks
- hives that keep going away and coming back without an identifiable cause
- a rash that is painful or leaves a bruise
- a rash that’s interfering with daily life
- a rash that is spreading
Hives aren’t usually a medical emergency. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about when to seek medical treatment for hives.
When should I go to urgent care for an allergic reaction?
Though you can treat most cases of hives at home, here are some reasons why visiting an urgent care center might be a good choice:
- the hives cover your whole body
- you also have a fever
- you also have swelling under your skin
- the rash is spreading
- you’re worried about your or your child’s rash
You may also want to visit an urgent care center if this is the first time you’ve experienced hives.
Any allergic reaction accompanied by trouble breathing or throat swelling is a medical emergency. Call emergency medical services or go to an ER immediately.
Should I go to the doctor if I break out in hives?
Hives are typically harmless and you can manage them at home. But you may need to see a doctor if they cover your entire body, they don’t go away, or they keep coming back. You may have an allergy or underlying condition that requires additional diagnosis and treatment.
Should I go to urgent care if I have hives all over my body?
You should visit an urgent care center if you have hives all over your body that are itchy or painful and don’t respond to first-aid measures like an antihistamine.
You may also want to visit an urgent care center if you’re concerned about hives or this is the first time you’ve ever experienced them.
Hives are typically harmless and you can manage them at home. But you may need to see a doctor if they cover your entire body, don’t go away, or keep coming back. Hives accompanied by trouble breathing or throat swelling are a medical emergency and could mean you’re having a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Call emergency medical services or visit an ER immediately since anaphylaxis can be life threatening if not treated right away.