Does My Baby Have Hives? Identifying Hives and Their Causes

Are you concerned your baby may have hives? Learn about hives, what they mean, and how you can treat them.

Identifying Hives

Hives, also known as urticaria, is a type of rash characterized by raised, rounded, itchy welts that cluster together on the skin. If your baby has dark skin, the rash will be closer to the color of your baby’s natural skin tone than if he has light skin. They are identifiable in their shape and in the way they often cluster together to form large patches. The spots themselves vary in size, as well as the clusters they form. 

It is often noted that hives go away in a day or less, which sometimes makes them easier to identify. Basically, if they are here today and gone tomorrow, you can usually assume you are dealing with hives. 

Hives can appear anywhere on the body and seem to follow no pattern, sometimes disappearing from one part of the body only to reappear in a different place. 

What Causes Hives?

Hives are often caused by allergies to the environment or a food allergy. Other things that can cause hives include the following:

  • Viral or bacterial infections 
  • Certain medications
  • Bug bites or stings
  • Allergies to fragrance or chemicals in laundry detergent, lotion, etc. 
  • Extreme temperature changes
  • Irritated skin caused by clothing or shoes

Sometimes, in the case of an acute outbreak of hives that resolves quickly, you might never know what caused it. There is no reason to be overly concerned if you are unable to pinpoint what caused your baby’s hives, though it is a good idea to monitor him for other signs of allergy once you notice the hives. You also  may want to write down what your child ate before the hives appeared, as well as any other information about your day that may be relevant. 

Are My Baby’s Hives Caused by a Food Allergy?

If your baby’s hives are caused by a food allergy, the hives will usually appear pretty quickly after eating the offending food, usually within minutes. Also, food allergies usually trigger additional symptoms beyond just hives. Some other food allergy symptoms that usually accompany hives include the following:

  • Stomach pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea

More serious symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Wheezing
  • Swollen tongue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin

If your baby shows any signs of anaphylaxis, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Your baby could be reacting violently to a food allergy, which would require immediate medical attention. While this is rare in babies, it is a good idea to be aware of the signs and react appropriately. 

If you believe a food allergy is the culprit, stop feeding your baby the offending food right away and consult a doctor about allergy testing.

How to Treat Hives

While hives often go away on their own, they can be itchy and uncomfortable while they are around. There are a few ways to treat mild outbreaks of hives in your own home. 

*Always consult your health care provider first to discuss recommended treatments.

  • Antihistamine Medications

Any time your body comes in contact with an allergen, your body releases histamine as a way to fight the irritant, which can cause hives to form. You have likely heard of antihistamine medication, such as Benadryl. Antihistamines block the histamine release, helping to minimize the histamine response, such as hives. Consult your doctor about the best anti-histamine and dosage recommendations for your child. *Never give your child medications without first consulting your doctor. 

  • Hydrocortisone Cream

While hydrocortisone cream will not treat the hives or make them go away, it will relieve the itchiness associated with the rash. 

  • Take an anti-itch bath

Taking an oatmeal bath or simply adding baking soda to the bathwater can help relieve the itchiness associated with hives. Again, this will not make the rash go away but can provide some relief. 

  • Apply a cool compress

Applying a cool washcloth to the area can also provide relief and is a very non-invasive method of relieving symptoms associated with hives. 

  • Use witch hazel

Some find that making a witch hazel solution and applying it topically can help with skin irritations such as hives. 

  • Aloe

It has long been accepted that aloe vera is a reliable way to soothe skin discomfort. The cool gel, combined with the medicinal properties of the plant, is helpful for sunburns, hives, and many other skin issues. 

  • Calamine lotion

Calamine lotion is a staple remedy for itchy skin. This lotion can be found at any drugstore in your area. Simply apply it to the affected area to relieve itchiness and discomfort

Evaluating Your Baby’s Hives

Hives are not a serious condition in and of themselves but sometimes can be a sign of a mild or severe allergy. Being able to tell the difference between hives caused by mild allergies and those caused by more severe ones is important in keeping your child healthy. 

Hives Caused by a Mild Allergy

If hives are confined to one area and go away on their own, you are probably dealing with a mild allergy. This could be a mild food allergy or an allergy to other environmental factors. In either case, these reactions are not cause for immediate concern, though you should always be paying attention to any suspicious rashes or symptoms that continue to arise. 

If your baby has hives that seem to be caused by a mild allergy, you may use any of the treatments previously listed to keep your baby comfortable until they go away. In addition to treating the hives, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you think they were caused by a food allergy.

Continue to monitor your child, even in the case of mild hives, for symptoms of a more serious allergic reaction. 

Hives Caused by a Severe Allergy

If you notice widespread hives all over your child’s body, you are likely dealing with a more serious allergic reaction which should be handled swiftly and with care. In this case, an antihistamine will not be helpful in stopping the reaction. Injecting epinephrine is the only way to stop a severe allergic reaction and should be your immediate response should your child develop hives all over his body in addition to other symptoms of anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious, life-threatening condition that can be caused by food allergies, bee stings, and allergies to medication. If you do not currently have an epi-pen, and think your child is experiencing anaphylactic symptoms, you should visit the emergency room for immediate help. 

Hives Versus Other Skin Rashes

Hives are a specific type of rash that is fleeting and almost always a response to an allergy or irritation of some sort. There are other types of rashes and skin conditions, however, that can be caused by a variety of things. 

  • Eczema

Eczema will cause your baby’s skin to become dry and itchy, as well as inflamed and red. Eczema will not cause raised bumps, however, making it fairly easy to tell the difference between the two. 

  • Baby Acne

Baby acne is exactly what it sounds like – acne on a baby’s skin. While baby acne looks uncomfortable, it is not painful to the baby, nor is it accompanied by other symptoms. Baby acne can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, making the duration much longer than that of hives. Baby acne is not an allergic reaction to anything but can be made worse by irritants to the skin. It looks quite a bit different from hives in appearance and should be easy to differentiate. 

  • Heat rashes

Heat rashes look a lot like baby acne, but are brought on by being outside in the heat. There are no other symptoms associated with heat rashes, and they clear up on their own. 

Knowing the difference in skin ailments will be helpful in determining what is causing your baby’s discomfort and how to treat it. 

Learn more about common skin rashes for Pediatrician Dr. Dina:

The Bottom Line

Hives are a type of rash, characterized by raised, round bumps that cluster together. They are usually brought on by an allergy or irritant of some sort. This allergy can be mild or severe, which makes it important to evaluate your baby for a severe allergic reaction. 

If you notice hives on your baby, be sure to pay attention to what may have caused the hives, including the food most recently eaten by your child. Hives can be a result of food allergies or other allergies, and in both cases, you should talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the reaction that has occurred. 

Widespread, severe hives that are accompanied by other symptoms should be addressed immediately, because it may be a symptom of anaphylactic shock. In most cases, however, hives on a baby are not a cause for immediate concern, and anaphylactic reactions are rare in children under the age of one. 

Be sure to monitor your baby after the hives have come and gone for other signs of allergies and take the appropriate action. 

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