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Hives: Signs and symptoms

Swelling on your face, tongue, or throat?

Go to urgent care or your nearest emergency room. Swelling in any one of these areas can cause problems breathing or swallowing, which can come up quickly.

Swelling (angioedema) on bottom lip of child who has hives

Common signs and symptoms of hives

This skin condition causes bumps and raised patches called hives. A single bump or patch is called a hive.

When you have hives on your skin, they can:

  • Itch, often intensely

  • Burn or sting

  • Feel warm to the touch

Where do hives develop on the body?

Hives can appear anywhere on your skin. Most people develop them on one or more of these areas:

  • Abdomen

  • Back

  • Buttocks

  • Chest

  • Upper arms

  • Upper legs

Some people also develop deep swelling called angioedema (an-jee-oh-uh-DEE-mah). This commonly develops on the face, especially the eyelids or lips. It can also affect the tongue, throat, arms, or legs.

What do hives look like?

This skin condition can appear on your skin in many ways, as the following pictures show. In the descriptions, you’ll find the signs and symptoms that hives can cause.

Raised spots, patches, or both

The rash of raised spots and patches may feel smooth. They can range in size from a pinhead to larger than a dinner plate and appear in different shapes.

Hives on hands

Color varies with your skin tone

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 tone. People who have a light or medium skin tone usually see red or pink hives. If you have a lot of swelling with a hive, you may see a hive that looks white in color.

Hives on brown skin, hives on white skin

Itchy rash that’s often warm

Hives can itch, sometimes intensely. Rather than itch, some people say the welts burn or sting. Because the skin is inflamed, hives often feel warm to the touch.

Woman scratching her arm after being awoken by itchy hives

Hive blanches when you press on it

If you have hives, pressing down on one will make it turn pale or white, just as this woman’s finger lightens when pressed against glass. This color change is called blanching.

Hives can blanch when pressed on just like this woman’s finger, which is pressed against glass

Appear suddenly and go away

Hives tend to appear suddenly and go away on their own. An individual hive will usually disappear within 24 hours, but new hives can appear. Most cases of hives go away within a few weeks, but some last longer.

Hives on back

Can develop in different areas or always in the same place

As new hives appear, they may develop on different parts of your skin. If they occur in the same place every time, they’re called fixed hives. When hives are fixed, this usually means that something physical is triggering them like medication, stress, or sunlight.

Hives on leg

Hives can run together

Sometimes, the hives run together, as shown here. The large, raised patches are called plaques.

Hives run together to create plaques

Hives can cover a large area

Some people develop hives over a large area of their skin. As hives clear on lighter skin tones, they rarely leave a mark. If you have a darker skin tone, you may see dark spots called hyperpigmentation where hives once were.

Widespread hives on legs

Deep swelling under the skin (angioedema)

Deep swelling rarely itches, but it can feel painful. If you have deep swelling on your face, in your mouth, or inside your throat, get immediate medical care.

swelling (angioedema) on eyelid and skin beneath eyelid of man who has hives

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.

Images 1,2,3,4,7,9,10,11: Produced with permission from ©DermNet www.dermnetnz.org 2024.

Images 5,6: Getty Images

Image 8: Used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (JAAD Case Reports 2024;47:47-9.)

Antia C, Baquerizo K, et al. “Urticaria: A comprehensive review: Epidemiology, diagnosis, and work-up.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Oct;79(4):599-614.

Grattan CEH, Saini S. “Urticaria and angioedema.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (fourth edition). Elsevier, China, 2018: 308-9.

Hide M, Takahagi S, et al. “Urticaria and angioedema.” In: Kang S, Amagai M, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology (ninth edition). McGraw Hill Education, New York, 2019:684-8.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
DiAnne Davis, MD, FAAD
Elisa Gallo, MD, FAAD
William Warren Kwan, MD, FAAD
Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, FAAD

Last updated: 5/30/24