Hives: Signs and symptoms
Swelling can be a medical emergency
If swelling develops in your mouth or throat or you have or difficulty breathing, get immediate medical care or go to the nearest emergency room.
Where do hives develop on the body?
Hives can develop anywhere on your skin. For most people, hives appear on one or more of these areas:
If you have hives, they may appear in one area like your back or cover much of your skin.
Hives can also develop on soft, moist tissue that lines your eyelids, mouth, and other areas. The medical name for this moist tissue is mucous membrane.
Some people always get hives in the same place (or places) on their body
This usually happens when something triggers hives like medication, stress, or sunlight.
When hives develop in the same place every time, this is called fixed hives.
What are the signs and symptoms of hives?
Hives cause raised, visible, and often itchy welts on the skin, mucous membranes (described above), or both.
Hives can develop at any age
It is a common disease in children.
What do hives look like on the skin?
These itchy welts can appear on the skin in many ways, as the following pictures of hives show.
Hives develop in batches
Hives appear suddenly, causing a rash of smooth, raised welts that tend to differ in size and shape. The welts can be small, large, or somewhere in between. Some hives are as big as a hand.
The color of hives varies with skin color
If you have brown or black skin, hives are often the same color as your skin, or slightly darker or lighter than your natural skin color. People who have a light or medium complexion see red or pink hives.
Individual hives come and go quickly, usually within 24 hours
As some hives disappear, new hives may form. Most people have a case of hives for a few days to a few weeks. If new hives continue to appear for more than 6 weeks, you have a condition called chronic hives.
Skin itches, burns, or stings and feels warm to the touch
Hives can itch, sometimes intensely. Some people say that hives burn or sting rather than itch. Because the skin is inflamed, hives often feel warm to the touch.
Hives can cover large areas of skin
Some people get hives in a few places. It’s also possible for hives to cover a large portion of the body, which can feel uncomfortable because hives tend to itch.
A telltale sign of hives is blanching
This means that if you have a light or medium skin color, pressing on a hive will cause the red or pink color to disappear while you’re pressing on it.
Hives usually appear as distinct raised spots or patches
Sometimes, hives run together, as shown here. The large, raised patches are called plaques.
Some people also develop swelling deep in their skin
Hives cause inflammation in the skin, so the skin may feel hot and swollen. Some people who get hives also develop another type of swelling that occurs deep in the skin or moist tissue that lines the lips, mouth, inside of the eyelids, and elsewhere.
This swelling is called angioedema. It tends to cause pain rather than itch.
Swelling (angioedema) on the lower lip
Angioedema causes pain rather than itch and is more noticeable than the swelling caused by hives. Angioedema usually lasts for 2 to 3 days. If angioedema develops in your mouth or throat, get immediate medical care because the swelling can make breathing difficult.
While hives are common, some people are more likely than others to develop them. Find out if you have a higher risk at: Hives: Causes.
Related AAD resources
Image 1: Used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.
Images 2-10: Used with permission of DermNet NZ.
Grattan CEH and Saini SS. “Urticaria and angioedema.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (4th edition). Mosby Elsevier, China, 2018:304-19.
Hide M, Takahagi S, et al. “Urticaria and angioedema.” In: Kang S, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology. (9th edition) McGraw Hill Education, United States of America, 2019:684-785.
Yosipovitch G and Kwatra SG. “Chronic urticaria.” In: Living with itch: A patient’s guide. The Johns Hopkins University Press. United States, 2013: 56-9.
Paula Ludmann, MS
Rajiv Nijhawan, MD, FAAD
Dara Spearman, MD, FAAD
Last updated: 9/28/21