Hives, or urticaria, are a common allergic reaction in which a rash or welts appear on the skin. Hives are typically quite itchy and can last just a few minutes or several days before going away. Occasionally, however, these annoying blotches can indicate more serious problems, especially when accompanied by symptoms such as difficult breathing.
In angioedema, swelling develops beneath the skin and in serious cases can cause disabling swelling of internal organs, life-threatening blockage of air passages, or severe, uncontrollable intestinal contractions. In rare cases the swelling occurs in the throat and causes suffocation. Angioedema sometimes occurs with hives, but is not itchy or red.
Chronic cases of angioedema that do not occur with hives may be the result of a condition called hereditary angioedema.
Simultaneously developing hives along with complicating symptoms such as fever, nausea, abdominal cramps, shortness of breath, and a drop in blood pressure after a bee sting, insect bite, or drug injection strongly suggests anaphylaxis. This severe shock to the immune system requires prompt medical attention. In rare cases, failure to get help quickly can be fatal.
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