Hives are very common in children. The rash is itchy, red, raised welts that often move from one location to the next within minutes. If you are like most parents, your first thought is an allergic reaction and you rack your brain trying to figure out what your child may have eaten or touched. However, hives have many different causes, the most common in children being illness, either viral or bacteria. Allergen exposure is second on the list. Allergens may be food, medications, lotions, insect bites, soaps, detergents, fabric softener, clothing …just to name a few. In many cases, it is difficult to figure out the exact cause.
Hives may last for hours to weeks, but most often 1-2 days. If they are due to an allergen exposure and the substance is taken away, the hives usually resolved within 24 hours with treatment. However, with illness, you may have to wait until the illness resolves for the hives to fully go away.
Most often, symptomatic treatment for hives is the best course of action. Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are very effective at treating hives, however this medications may make your child drowsy or hyperactive. Your doctor may recommend a long acting antihistamine like loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadin (Allegra), certirizine (Zyrtec), or desloratadine (Clarinex) if the hives last longer than 2-3 days.
Home remedies to make your child more comfortable include placing your child in a cool bath (with or without oatmeal to sooth the skin) and dressing your child in light, airy clothing. Do your best to try and keep them from itching!
If your child develops swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or joints they need to be seen by a physician. If they develop difficulty swallowing or breathing, vomiting, abdominal pain, or pass out with hives – it is a medical emergency and can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction.
Heather Joyce, MD