Hives are clusters of skin reactions to allergies or stress. They are called such because when somebody has an allergic reaction, their throat may feel like it’s closing up (a “goose”), and they also experience a tingling sensation all over the body. And considering there are nearly 100 different kinds of hives, it’s no wonder that millions of people suffer from them in the United States alone!
Hives happen because of your immune system. It’s a bit like an alarm going off and then the police show up to find a robbery in progress. Your body is trying to protect you by fighting whatever is causing the outbreak of hives. Hives aren’t harmful, but they can ruin your day if severe.
How do hives work?
It turns out there’s a lot more going on in your skin than you might think and all of it has to do with how blood flows through your vessels.
When blood flows through vessels (the tiny tubes in your body that carry oxygen and nutrients), it creates friction against the vessel wall and moves fluid around.
This friction is what causes hives:
- When your immune system mistakes this friction for an outside invader (like pollen) and releases histamine into your body to fight it off.
- The histamine causes inflammation and swelling in nearby lymph nodes (which are part of your immune system), making them swell up and become visible as hives.
Hives are a common skin condition that can be triggered by many things, including allergies and stress. The word “hives” refers to tiny red welts on the skin that are usually accompanied by itching. The welts are called wheals, and they are caused when your immune system releases the histamine in response to an allergen or stressor.
When histamine is released from mast cells, it causes blood vessels under the skin to leak fluid into surrounding tissues. This creates the redness and swelling that characterize hives. Histamine also causes nerve endings in the skin to release other chemicals, like prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which can cause itching. Because all of these chemicals cause inflammation, hives can sometimes be accompanied by swelling of other body parts such as lips or eyes, or even trouble to breathe.
Hives are not dangerous, but they can be very uncomfortable. Hives are caused by an allergic reaction in your body, so it’s important to identify your triggers so you know what to avoid or treat.
If you think you have hives, see a doctor for treatment recommendations and advice on how to avoid future outbreaks.