Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(8):1374

What are hives?

Hives or “welts” is a skin reaction that is usually red and itchy. Hives are usually raised, flat bumps that are more red around the edge than in the middle. Hives may also look like red spots, blotches or blisters. They can occur on any part of the body. In some people, hives can occur because of an allergic reaction to foods and medicines. Hives may also occur during exercise. The medical term for hives is urticaria (say: er-ti-care-e-uh).

What does it mean if I get hives when I exercise?

Physical activity can produce allergic symptoms in some people. Symptoms may include:

  • Itching of the skin

  • Flushing (redness) of the skin

  • Hives (large or small)

  • Difficulty breathing (choking sensation)

  • Stomach cramping

  • Headache

  • Swelling of the face, tongue or hands

What should I do if I get hives during exercise?

You should stop exercising as soon as the hives are noted. If they do not go away in five to 10 minutes, or if you have other symptoms, stop exercising and call your doctor.

In some people, eating certain foods before exercise may make symptoms more likely to occur. Try to identify those foods that may “trigger” your symptoms.

Can symptoms be life threatening?

In severe cases, symptoms may be life threatening, but this seldom happens. If you ever have severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine injection pen for you. This medication is injected (by you) once symptoms have started. It stops the symptoms before they become dangerous.

Do I have to give up exercise?

You probably do not have to quit exercising. Most symptoms can be controlled by medicines and by stopping exercise when symptoms start. You should always exercise with a partner who knows about your condition.

What treatment is available?

Medicines, such as antihistamines, can be taken to help prevent symptoms. Your doctor can help you identify triggers and prescribe medicine if required. For some people, it may be necessary to avoid certain activities.

Where can I learn more about hives and exercise?

You can find out more about hives and their association with exercise at the American Academy of Dermatology's Web site:http://www.aad.org/pamphlets/urticaria.html.

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