Hives are a skin reaction that can lead to raised and itchy bumps. Hives themselves are not contagious. However, if the trigger of hives is an infection, it is possible to pass the infection on to another person.

Hives are a skin reaction that can cause itchy, raised bumps to appear anywhere on the skin. The medical term for hives is urticaria.

They typically occur as a reaction to a trigger. A trigger may be environmental, such as heat or cold, something a person is allergic to, such as food or medications, or a bacterial or viral infection.

Hives can vary in size and may appear on the skin individually or in a group. Sometimes hives join together and create large patches on the skin, which a doctor may call plaques.

Most cases of hives clear up within 24 hours. However, a person may develop chronic hives that can reappear almost daily for at least six weeks.

In this article, we will discuss whether hives are contagious, their prevention, management, and more.

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Hives are a very common condition but are not themselves contagious. Therefore, a person cannot pass them on to another person. However, a potential trigger for hives may be a bacterial or viral infection such as flu or strep throat, which can be contagious.

A person with hives due to an infection may pass the infection on to another person. However, this does not mean that the person will then subsequently develop hives.

There are several different types of hives that may have different triggers and last for varying periods of time, including:

  • Allergic hives: Can appear as a sign of an allergic reaction. Triggers of allergic hives may be any allergen that a person has a reaction to, such as certain medications or foods. Allergic hives can also occur during a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. If a person experiences severe hives that cover a large amount of their body, or other symptoms such as trouble breathing or swelling of the tongue, they must call 911 immediately.
  • Infection-induced hives: May occur when a person has a bacterial infection such as strep throat or urinary tract infection (UTI), or a viral infection such as flu or COVID-19.
  • Environmental hives: Physical stimuli in the environment can be a trigger for hives, including sun exposure, heat, cold, clothing material, latex, pollen, and some plants.
  • Psychogenic hives: Can occur when a person experiences stress, depression, or sadness.
  • Systemic hives: Sometimes having a systemic disease such as lupus, thyroid conditions, or leukemia can cause hives.
  • Chronic hives: Defines when a person develops new hives almost daily for 6 weeks or longer. If a person experiences chronic hives, they may want to see an allergist or immunologist. These specialists can perform a skin test to try to identify any triggers.
  • Idiopathic hives: Describes when a person experiences hives and there seems to be no known cause or trigger.

To prevent hives, a person will need to try to identify any triggers and avoid those as much as possible.

It may not always be possible to prevent hives if a person has not been able to identify any triggers.

If a person with hives is unable to identify or avoid triggers, management and treatment may depend on the type of hives a person has.

Some ways to manage hives include:

  • avoiding any known triggers
  • avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin
  • getting enough sleep
  • avoiding stress
  • taking medications such as antihistamines if a person has allergic hives
  • taking Omalizumab for allergic hives if antihistamines are not working
  • taking medications such as corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • using anti-itch creams or lotions
  • wearing loose, breathable clothing
  • applying a cool compress or taking a cool bath to relieve the skin

If a person has hives, these will typically disappear on their own within a few days, without treatment.

However, if a person experiences hives for 6 weeks or longer, or the hives cover a large area of the body, they can ask a doctor to refer them to a dermatologist or allergist. A dermatologist or allergist can help identify any triggers and put a treatment plan in place.

If a person with hives experiences any difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, or mouth, they must call 911 immediately as they may be experiencing anaphylaxis.

Hives, or urticaria, are a skin reaction that can cause red and itchy lumps on the skin. Hives are not contagious, and a person cannot pass them on to another person.

However, infections can be a potential trigger for hives, and infections can be transmissible. If a person with hives passes on the infection, this does not mean the other person will then also develop hives.

Other triggers of hives can include allergens, and environmental factors such as heat, cold, and sun exposure. The best way to prevent hives is to identify and try to avoid any triggers.

If a person does experience hives, there are several ways they can manage and treat the condition, including taking antihistamines, wearing loose clothing, avoiding stress, and using anti-itch creams.

An individual with hives who experiences signs of anaphylaxis such as trouble breathing or swelling in the mouth must call 911 immediately.