Hives can appear all over the body, including the face and neck. Allergens and environmental factors can often trigger this rash.

Hives are raised, itchy welts that vary in size and can appear suddenly. This type of rash, also known as urticaria, is not contagious.

As the skin on the face is very sensitive, it is a common area of the body for hives to affect.

Hives can occur due to irritation and allergies or because of certain physical triggers, such as pressure.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, and treatment of hives. It also considers the outlook for someone experiencing hives and explains when to contact a doctor.

Hives do not only affect the face, but the face is a common location for hives because the skin there often comes into contact with allergens and other irritants.

Hives happen when the body releases histamine in response to an allergen. This chemical release causes inflammation and the distinctive rash.

The appearance of hives can vary among individuals, and they can look different depending on the color of the skin.

Sometimes, they appear as tiny raised bumps. In other cases, hives look like raised welts that have different shapes. The welts or bumps can be big or small.

Hives are usually very itchy and often come on suddenly. The rash typically lasts only a few hours, but people with chronic hives can have flare-ups on a regular basis.

A telltale sign of hives is that pressing down on a welt will turn its center white. However, this effect may be less apparent in people with darker skin tones.

Learn about the appearance and diagnosis of hives on Black skin here.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), hives can appear because of:

  • an allergic reaction
  • a physical trigger, including exposure to cold or hot temperatures
  • a medical condition

The AAD note that known triggers for hives include:

Sometimes, there is no obvious trigger, and the cause of hives remains unknown.

Treating hives involves avoiding contact with or exposure to the offending trigger or allergen.

Hives usually go away on their own and only last a short time. However, the itchy sensation can be very uncomfortable.

The AAD recommend that people relieve itching by using a cold compress (except in the case of cold-related hives) or applying over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch medication that contains antihistamines.

People may also find OTC topical corticosteroids useful. In some cases, doctors may prescribe stronger corticosteroids to treat flare-ups quickly.

People with chronic hives may wish to take extra steps to minimize the symptoms. These can include:

  • avoiding overheating
  • keeping the skin moisturized
  • using fragrance-free, non-irritating skin care products

Hives can be a symptom of some autoimmune disorders and, less commonly, certain malignancies.

People can also get hives when they have a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis does not subside on its own and requires emergency treatment. Anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of this reaction — which can include difficulty breathing, tightness of the throat, dizziness, and a sense of impending doom — should seek medical care immediately.

Contact dermatitis and hives are similar but not the same. Both can happen when the skin touches an irritant or allergen. However, a contact dermatitis rash may not appear until 1–2 days after the contact, and it can take time to heal.

Angioedema is another condition that is very similar to hives. It often results from an allergic reaction. Symptoms include:

  • facial swelling around the mouth or eyes
  • breathing trouble
  • stomach cramps
  • swelling of the extremities
  • swelling of the throat

If hives happen alongside other symptoms, such as swelling and difficulty breathing, a person should seek emergency medical attention. They may be having a severe allergic reaction.

Severe itching can cause a person to scratch hard and break the skin. As a result, bacteria can enter the body and cause an infection.

People should also see a doctor if they notice any skin changes that may signal an infection, such as discoloration or the area feeling warm to the touch.

In about 5% percent of people who experience hives, it can be a sign of an underlying condition such as liver or thyroid disease.

Some risk factors for hives include having:

Staying away from triggers can help prevent future rashes from developing.

For example, people with sensitive facial skin should avoid products with fragrances. Gentle, non-irritating products can sometimes still cause hives, though. To avoid unexpected reactions, people can perform patch tests to check for potential skin reactions.

However, it is not always possible to avoid triggers. Sometimes, people cannot identify what has triggered a flare-up.

Some triggers are also challenging to avoid. Steering clear of cold weather, for example, is difficult for someone who lives in a cold climate. Wearing facial protection such as a scarf or neck gaiter may help, but it will not guarantee that hives will never occur.

Hives are not usually severe, and the rash will typically resolve on its own. Most people can avoid any known triggers fairly easily.

If a person does not know what is triggering the hives rash on their face, they may be unable to prevent it, but managing the symptoms is relatively simple.

Hives can happen almost anywhere on the body, including the face. Some people may feel self-conscious about hives on the face, and they can be uncomfortable.

As hives sometimes happen due to an allergic reaction, people with chronic facial hives should see a doctor or allergist.

It is possible for hives to develop into a severe allergic reaction.

Not all cases of hives have an easily detectable cause. In some people with hives, there is no clear trigger of the rash. However, various treatments and home remedies can help treat the symptoms.