Hives (also known as urticaria) are characterized by pale red bumps on the surface of the skin. They can be as small as a pencil eraser or join together in clusters of hives to form large wheals or plaques. Hives are itchy and can also cause a stinging sensation. Hives can occur on any part of the body but are common on the face, lips, tongue, throat and ears. Acute hives last for less than six weeks (often flaring instantly and subsiding within several hours). Chronic hives stretch out or recur for more than six weeks.
Angioedema is similar to hives, but the swelling occurs beneath the skin instead of on the surface. Angioedema can cause deep swelling around the eyes and lips and sometimes of the genitals, hands, and feet. It generally lasts longer than hives, but the swelling usually goes away in less than 24 hours.
Hives and angioedema most often occur as a result of allergies. Topical creams, antihistamines, and steroids can help manage the symptoms, but they do not get to the source of the problem.