Hives (also called urticaria) are a common skin reaction in children, characterized by a raised, flat pink rash called wheals. The shape of these bumps can vary, and their size can range from about one-half inch to several inches in diameter. The larger wheals often have pale centers.
In most cases, hives are caused by allergies. Foods like shellfish, milk, peanuts, or chocolate can trigger them. So can insect bites or drugs like penicillin. In winter some children develop hives when they are exposed to cold air. Occasionally, children with a strep throat will have hives. In most cases, however, doctors are unable to identify the specific cause of an outbreak.
Unlike most allergic conditions, hives often occur only once in a child. The first symptom may be itching sensations, followed by the appearance of wheals. Although these raised bumps usually disappear within a few hours, they often resurface on a different part of the body. Eventually, the spots disappear completely, with the entire cycle usually taking only three or four days, and rarely longer than ten days.
In mild cases of hives, your doctor may determine that no treatment is required. However, to make your child less itchy and more comfortable, the doctor might suggest an oral antihistamine. Your youngster also might find that a cool bath or cold compresses can further relieve the itching. In the most severe cases, your child may have trouble speaking and even breathing because of swelling in the mouth and throat; if that happens, contact your doctor and go to an emergency room immediately. Also, let your physician know if your youngster with hives is feeling any joint pain or if he develops a fever, since this could suggest another complication called serum sickness.