Pictures to Help With Identifying Hives vs. Other Skin Rashes

Hives are the welts, or wheals, that people get when they have urticaria. Urticaria is a common condition that occurs in up to 20 percent of the population at one time or another.

It can affect any person of any race at any age on any part of the body in any season of the year, but it often shows up in the evening or in the morning (just after waking). Itching can occur and is typically worse at night, which can interfere with sleeping.

Sometimes hives may also sting or hurt. Hives can be very small (such as the size of the tip of a pen) to very large (such as the size of a dinner plate).

In this gallery of hives pictures, you will find various photos of different types of hives and the important characteristics of each. This first picture shows what a typical case of hives looks like.

Hives Caused by Infection

Close-Up of Hives Caused By Infection

Heather L. Brannon, MD

Hives are considered to be idiopathic, meaning that an outbreak can happen spontaneously and the cause isn't always known. If a cause can be found, the most common cause is an infection. This photo is an example of hives caused by a ​viral infection.

Other possible causes include​ an allergic reaction, stress, exercise, sun exposure, pressure on the skin, scratching, and chemical exposure.

Chronic Hives

Close-Up of Hives on Man's Abdomen

Heather L. Brannon, MD

Hives are usually diagnosed based on their appearance, so a lot of expensive blood or skin tests are typically not required. However, if you have repeated cases of acute hives or a chronic case of hives and the cause isn't obvious, more testing may be needed to figure out what may be triggering the condition.

A doctor may recommend taking an antihistamine to relieve the itching, or he or she may advise taking a different medication to treat the hives. Fortunately, most cases of hives resolve on their own.

Acute Hives

Urticaria Rash (Hives) On Legs Due to Exam Stress


Hives are classified as either acute or chronic, depending on whether they've been present for fewer than or more than six weeks.

This is a picture of a case of acute hives. Chronic hives often don't look like hives. They tend to look more like red places that someone has scratched.

Spongy Hives

Close-Up of Spongy Hives

Heather L. Brannon, MD

When something causes skin cells to release histamine, capillaries (thin blood vessels) leak fluid into the top layer of the skin, the epidermis. This causes parts of the skin to swell and turn into what are called hives.

Depending on the amount of fluid that gets released, hives can look very "spongy" like this. Compare this picture to the next photo of hives.

Flat Hives

Hives - Urticaria, Skin Disease

anand purohit / Getty Images

Hives develop due to a complicated chain of events that results in the release of histamine into the surrounding tissue. Histamine causes the blood vessels to leak, so fluid accumulates in the skin.

Depending on the amount of fluid that leaks and the part of the skin it leaks into, hives can be thick and "spongy" like the previous picture. Or they can be relatively flat like these hives.

Overlapping Polycircular Hives

Close-Up of Overlapping Hives

Heather L. Brannon, MD

The shape of hives is described as polycircular. This means that they are made up of many circles. Can you pick out the overlapping circles in this picture of hives? See the next picture for the results.

Polycircular Hives Identified

Close-Up of Polycircular Hives Circled On Someone's Arm

Heather L. Brannon, MD

Here, with this drawing on top of the photo, you can see the multiple circles that make up a typical case of hives. Now that you've looked at all of these different hives pictures, are you itchy yet?

Hives Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man
Was this page helpful?
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sachdeva S, Gupta V, Amin SS, Tahseen M. Chronic urticariaIndian J Dermatol. 2011;56(6):622–628. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.91817

  2. Wedi B, Raap U, Wieczorek D, Kapp A. Urticaria and infectionsAllergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2009;5(1):10. Published 2009 Dec 1. doi:10.1186/1710-1492-5-10

  3. Deacock SJ. An approach to the patient with urticariaClin Exp Immunol. 2008;153(2):151–161. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03693.x

  4. Zuberbier T. Classification of urticariaIndian J Dermatol. 2013;58(3):208–210. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.110830

  5. Kanani A, Betschel SD, Warrington R. Urticaria and angioedemaAllergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018;14(Suppl 2):59. Published 2018 Sep 12. doi:10.1186/s13223-018-0288-z

  6. Schoepke N, Doumoulakis G, Maurer M. Diagnosis of urticariaIndian J Dermatol. 2013;58(3):211–218. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.110831

  7. Yadav S, Bajaj AK. Management of difficult urticariaIndian J Dermatol. 2009;54(3):275–279. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.55641

  8. Criado PR, Criado RF, Maruta CW, Reis VM. Chronic urticaria in adults: state-of-the-art in the new millenniumAn Bras Dermatol. 2015;90(1):74–89. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153509

  9. Branco ACCC, Yoshikawa FSY, Pietrobon AJ, Sato MN. Role of Histamine in Modulating the Immune Response and InflammationMediators Inflamm. 2018;2018:9524075. Published 2018 Aug 27. doi:10.1155/2018/9524075

  10. Jain S. Pathogenesis of chronic urticaria: an overviewDermatol Res Pract. 2014;2014:674709. doi:10.1155/2014/674709

  11. Pober JS, Sessa WC. Inflammation and the blood microvascular systemCold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2014;7(1):a016345. Published 2014 Oct 23. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a016345

  12. Fonacier L, Aquino M, Kim B. Clinical evaluation and treatment of chronic urticaria. Postgrad Med. 2010;122(2):148-56. doi:10.3810/pgm.2010.03.2132