How long do hives last and should I see a doctor?

23rd June, 2020 • 4 min read

If you’ve noticed a red, raised, itchy rash on your skin, you may have hives.

Hives (also called urticaria) are round or ring-shaped patches (weals) that form on your skin and they can appear anywhere on your body. They can be uncomfortable and distressing.

The condition can be triggered by an allergic reaction to food, infections, chronic health conditions, certain medications, stress or drinking alcohol. They can also be set off by changes in temperature or from physical pressure on the skin.

It’s common for hives to flare up at certain times of the year - for example in summertime when hot weather, insect bites, pollen and sun exposure can trigger the problem.

So how long do hives last? Most cases resolve within a day or 2, but the exact length of time will depend on the type of hives you have.

What are the different types of hives?

Acute urticaria

Acute urticaria (sometimes called acute spontaneous urticaria) are hives that appear suddenly, and then fade away on their own.

They normally fade within 24-48 hours, although some cases of acute hives can last for several weeks.

You may notice that individual weals seem to fade after an hour or less, but new ones may appear in other places - giving you the impression that the rash is moving around your body.

Some people also experience swelling in the deeper layers of the skin (

), which can affect any part of the body, but it often occurs on your hands, lips, feet, eyes or genitals.

Studies show that 1 in 6 people experience an episode of acute hives at some point in their lives. It’s often difficult to identify the cause of an outbreak, but the condition is normally harmless and you may be able to manage some of your symptoms yourself. See the helpful video on this page for how to treat hives at home.

Chronic urticaria

Chronic or persistent urticaria are hives that last for more than 6 weeks, but they normally last between 6 and 12 months, sometimes longer, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

If you have chronic urticaria, you may find that your symptoms either come and go intermittently, or you have an itchy, red rash on most days.

Chronic urticaria can be the result of an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis or

. Research also shows that chronic hives can be linked to illnesses like viral hepatitis and an
underactive thyroid

For some cases of chronic hives there isn’t an obvious cause or trigger. This is known as chronic spontaneous urticaria.

If you think that you might have chronic hives, you should see a doctor to help identify any possible triggers and causes. A doctor may also be able to prescribe medications to help you control your symptoms.

Physical urticaria

Physical urticaria is the medical name for any type of hives that are triggered by a physical factor - for example some people break out in hives when they sweat, or rub their skin.

Other people find that cold temperatures, sunlight or friction trigger an outbreak, and in some rare cases, water can also be a trigger for hives.

If you have physical urticaria, your hives will normally develop within minutes, and then fade within 1 hour. If you think that you may have this form of hives, try to identify your triggers and avoid them as much as you can.

You may also find that it helps to take an antihistamine when you break out in a rash, but you should see a doctor if you intend to take antihistamine medications for more than a couple of days in a row.

When to see a doctor about hives

You should see a doctor if your symptoms do not improve after 2 days, your rash seems to be getting worse or your hives keep going away and then coming back, as this could be a sign that you are allergic to something.

You should also see a doctor if you have a high temperature or notice any swelling under your skin (angioedema).

You should seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness or fainting
  • nausea or vomiting
  • an increased heart rate
  • rapid and severe swelling of the face, mouth or throat

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.