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A sudden outbreak of swollen, pale red lumps, patches or welts on the skin, a condition called Urticaria or hives can be very itchy and distressing but it is not dangerous always.

Urticaria is a skin condition with raised, itchy lumps, like nettle stings that appear suddenly from allergies or for other reasons. These lumps can appear anywhere on the body including the face, lips, tongue, throat or ears. Each crop of skin lesion lasts less than a day but fresh crops can appear one after the other

Hives usually vary in size, lasting for hours or even upto several days before fading. Episodes that linger for more than six weeks are called chronic urticaria while shorter attacks are called acute urticaria. Acute Urticaria is more common — around 20 percent of the population has an episode at some time in their life.

Angioedema is similar to Urticaria but the swelling happens beneath the skin instead of on the surface. It is usually characterised by deep swelling around the eyes and lips and sometimes of the genitals, hands and feet. Angioedema of the tongue or airway can be dangerous because it can interfere with breathing. Urticaria is much more common, some people get a mixture of the two and a few get angioedema alone.

There are many causes of urticaria and angioedema. While acute episodes can be caused by an allergy, the vast majority of chronic urticarias are not allergic. In fact, most cases of urticaria are unexplained and are called chronic idiopathic urticaria. A thorough history and examination will be required to determine whether or not there is an identifiable cause for your urticaria or angioedema.

Blood tests may be required to rule out other causes of itching and / or swellings. The main treatment for urticaria is antihistamine medications. Other treatments include: blocking other parts of the histamine system, using steroids or immunosuppressive drugs and using other drugs to interfere with the chemicals released by the mast cells.

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