12 Effective Ways to Treat Hives

Hives, also known as urticaria, are itchy, red bumps that appear on the skin. They can be caused by viral infections such as strep throat, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), stress, or other triggers, and they are always itchy. Up to 20% of people will experience hives at some point.

Treatments for hives include home remedies and antihistamines. No matter what treatment you choose, identifying and addressing the root cause of hives is important to eliminate them and keep them from coming back. 

Continue reading to learn more about how to get rid of hives and when you should see a healthcare provider.

Itching in a woman

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What Do Hives Look Like? 

Hives may start as a general red rash, but they soon form into raised patches on the skin that are pink, red, or the color of your skin. These are known as welts. The welts can be any shape or size, but they generally have a well-defined edge. The welts will frequently change location, size, and shape, disappearing in one spot only to reappear somewhere else within a matter of hours.

Your case of hives should resolve on its own within a day or two but will be intensely itchy and uncomfortable in the meantime. Some people experience chronic hives that last for six weeks or longer.

Is It Hives or a Different Skin Rash?

Check out this gallery with photos of hives to help identify what you're dealing with.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Home remedies are an important treatment for hives. They can help keep you comfortable and can even stop hives from forming. 

Apply a Wet, Cold Compress

Wrap ice cubes in a damp cloth and apply it directly to your skin. In most cases, the cold will relieve itching from the hives. In rare cases, cold can make hives worse, so discontinue this treatment if it doesn’t work for you.

Wear Loose Clothing

Putting pressure on your skin, which can happen from wearing tight-fitting clothes or carrying a bag or pack with a strap slung over your shoulder, can cause hives or make them worse. When you’re treating hives, do your best to wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid backpacks, wraps, or other items that might rub against your skin. 

Avoid Overheating

When your skin gets too warm, hives can develop within minutes. Keep cool by staying in the shade and wearing light, breathable fabrics. 

Take It Easy

The release of adrenaline—whether from stress or exercise—can cause the formation of hives and may worsen hives that you already have. Take it easy and consider skipping the gym until your hives have resolved, usually in a day or two. 

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies 

OTC products, including the following, can provide quick, temporary relief of hives.

Antihistamines 

Antihistamines are a first-line treatment for hives. This class of medications blocks histamine, a chemical released in response to an allergen. Your options include:

These should be taken as instructed on the package, or as directed by your healthcare provider.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion is made from zinc and ferric oxide, two minerals that work together to soothe the skin. Calamine lotion is safe for most people, including infants. To use calamine lotion, cover your hives in a thin layer, allowing it to dry on the skin. 

Prescriptions 

Some people, especially those who have chronic or recurrent hives, will need prescription medications to manage their symptoms. 

Prescribed Antihistamines 

If OTC antihistamines aren’t effective at relieving your hives, your healthcare provider might recommend you take a higher dose, or they may suggest a prescription antihistamine such as Clarinex (desloratadine).

If you are on a prescription antihistamine, take the medication as directed and for the entire course of treatment, even if your symptoms clear. 

Corticosteroids 

Corticosteroids, more commonly known as steroids, are drugs that fight inflammation associated with an allergic or skin reaction like hives. Healthcare providers may prescribe oral steroids such as Deltasone (prednisone) to treat hives. These are more effective than applying a steroid cream to the affected area. 

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers, also known as leukotriene receptor antagonists, block the effects of leukotrienes, chemicals the body releases in response to an allergen or irritant. These medicines are often used for treating asthma but can also help treat hives. Singulair (montelukast) is the leukotriene modifier most often prescribed for hives. 

Xolair (Omalizumab)

Xolair is a monoclonal antibody medication used most often for treating asthma. However, it’s shown promise in treating chronic hives as well. In most patients, Xolair clears hives within a week or two; however, the hives may reappear when the medication is stopped. 

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary or alternative treatments, such as the following, may help control hives. If you’re using any, be sure to let your healthcare provider know. 

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a topical plant-based gel known for soothing burns, but it can also help with itching. Look for a gel with very few added ingredients to reduce the chances of skin irritation. To use it, spread a thin layer over your hives.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is another plant-based medicine that can relieve itching. It can be applied directly to the skin often throughout the day.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Call a healthcare provider immediately if you experience:

  • Alarming swelling, especially to the face, tongue, or neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives that don’t resolve within 48 hours or that recur frequently

Summary

Hives are itchy welts that form on the skin, often as a result of a viral infection or stress. Most cases of hives resolve within 48 hours, but some people can experience chronic hives, which last more than six weeks. Manage hives with at-home remedies like cold compresses, calamine lotion, and OTC antihistamines. Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t improve within two days. 

A Word From Verywell 

Although hives can look alarming, they're common and usually resolve on their own. Keep in mind that becoming stressed out about them can make them worse. Find a treatment that helps relieve the itching so you're not preoccupied by your discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the causes of hives?

    Hives are most often caused by viral infections. However, they can also be caused by taking NSAIDs, stress, allergic reactions, or other triggers.

  • How long do hives last?

    Most cases of hives resolve within 24–48 hours. However, some people develop chronic hives which last for six weeks or more. If your case of hives doesn’t clear up within a few days, reach out to your healthcare provider.

  • Are hives a symptom of a serious disease?

    Hives can be brought on by an infection like strep throat, but urticaria is not usually a symptom of a serious disease.

  • Do hives from stress look different from hives due to other causes?

    No, hives from stress look the same as hives from other causes.

8 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.
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  2. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Urticaria.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. 10 ways to get relief from chronic hives.

  4. Mount Sinai Health System. Hives information.

  5. Joy N. Calamine lotion. J Skin Sex Transm Dis. 2022;4:83-6. doi:10.25259/JSSTD_77_2021

  6. Allergy Institute. Don’t scratch that itch! Understanding hives and how to find relief.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. What causes hives?

  8. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Hives.