Urticaria is the medical term for the skin condition commonly known as hives: red, itchy bumps or welts on the skin. Acute (short-term) urticaria is diagnosed when the hives are present for less than six weeks.

Learn about acute urticaria, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

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The symptoms of acute urticaria, or short-term hives, can range from mild to severe. The most noticeable symptom is the presence of itchy bumps or welts on the skin. Other symptoms may develop with hives, such as swelling and difficulty breathing, and may signify a more serious health concern, such as an allergic reaction.

Acute urticaria symptoms include:

Potential Complications

Acute urticaria is usually a condition without severe complications. However, it can be a sign of something more serious. For example, hives may appear with a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that affects multiple body systems and involves difficulty breathing and closing airways.

Additionally, acute urticaria may turn into chronic urticaria if it lasts six weeks or longer.

Signs of Serious Complications

Call 911 or seek medical care immediately if you or someone you know experiences signs of severe complications linked to hives, including trouble breathing, dizziness, swelling, or tingling.


Hives can be caused by a number of irritants, allergens, bites, or stings. In some cases, the cause of hives is unknown (chronic idiopathic urticaria). Regardless of what causes hives, there are ways to relieve the symptoms.

Causes of Acute Urticaria

  • Animals (dander or saliva)
  • Blood transfusions
  • Environmental reactions (plants or pollutants)
  • Food allergies (e.g., peanuts, eggs, shellfish)
  • Infection (bacterial, viral)
  • Materials (latex, soap)
  • Medications (antibiotics)
  • Temperature (extreme heat or change in temperature)


Acute urticaria can be diagnosed by a healthcare professional such as a primary care practitioner or a dermatologist. There is no test to determine that the bumps on the skin are hives, but your healthcare provider can examine the skin and ask questions about how they feel. For example, they may ask if the bumps itch, if they are painful, and how long you've had them. Additionally, they may ask questions to determine what caused the skin condition.


Acute urticaria can be treated by:

  • Trying to determine possible causes of the hives: You can do this by testing for allergies with your healthcare provider or trying an elimination diet to identify food allergies.
  • Avoiding allergens: Stay away from any known allergens to prevent further inflammation.
  • Taking medications: Speak to your healthcare provider about taking antihistamines or corticosteroids to improve your symptoms.
  • Applying ice or cold compresses
  • Wearing loose clothing

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Hives often go away on their own without any medical treatment. However, they can co-occur with anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. For this reason, it is important to seek treatment from a healthcare provider if hives appear with swelling or difficulty breathing or if an allergic reaction is suspected.

Signs of Severe Allergic Reaction

  • Being exposed to a known allergen
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Wheezing


Identifying and avoiding whatever causes the hives can help prevent them. You can also get allergy testing done to identify allergens and triggers most likely to affect you and cause hives.

Some triggers of hives may be more difficult to avoid, such as air pollutants or pollen exposure in the spring when plants bloom.


Acute urticaria is the term for hives, a skin condition involving red, itchy bumps or welts lasting less than six weeks. Symptoms may also include swelling or pain and may appear if you have a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis.

It is important to seek immediate medical care if you have difficulty breathing, swelling, numbness or tingling, wheezing, or exposure to a known allergen. Hives can be treated by avoiding triggers; applying ice; wearing loose, comfortable clothing; and taking medication.

A Word From Verywell

Acute urticaria can be uncomfortable and frightening if hives appear alongside a severe allergic reaction. If you or someone you know experiences hives, difficulty breathing, swelling, numbness or tingling, wheezing, or exposure to a known allergen, it is essential to seek medical care immediately. Hives and allergic reactions associated with hives can be treated, and symptoms are often temporary.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the best way to treat acute urticaria?

    Acute urticaria can be treated at home or with medications to manage the symptoms and help with relief. The best treatment options depend on the person and the severity of the hives. Options include ice packs or cool washcloths on the skin, over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch cream, and prescription antihistamine medications.

  • How do you know if you have acute hives?

    A healthcare professional such as a primary care practitioner or dermatologist can diagnose acute hives. Signs of hives are red, itchy bumps on the skin that go away within six weeks.

  • Is acute urticaria a severe condition?

    Acute urticaria is generally not severe, but it can be very uncomfortable. It can also signify a severe or even life-threatening allergic reaction. If an allergic reaction is suspected, or if there is difficulty breathing, it is essential to seek medical care immediately.

  • Is acute urticaria contagious?

    No. Acute urticaria is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another.

  • How long does it take for acute hives to go away?

    The amount of time that hives last depends on the person and the cause of the hives. Acute hives go away within six weeks, while hives lasting six weeks or longer are diagnosed as chronic hives.

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH

Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.

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