Difference between a Rash and Hives

Updated on October 3, 2017

Out of all the medical problems a person can have throughout his life, skin problems are among the most annoying. They are visible, uncomfortable, and sometimes difficult to treat. And when it comes to skin conditions, people often mistake rashes for hives and do not know what the correct treatment is to apply. Read on to find out why knowing the difference is important.

Definitions

rash
A severe rash covering the entire body

A rash is usually an area of irritated skin that is red and swollen, itchy or painful. In most cases, rashes are caused by contact with an irritating substance. They can either appear immediately or over time. While some rashes can go away simply by removing the source of the irritation, others are long-lasting and require long-term treatment.

If you have a rash of unidentified origin (meaning you cannot think of having touched any chemical or other harmful substance), you should contact a doctor. In most cases, the itching sensation can cause people to scratch and draw blood. This causes infections and aggravates the condition.

Moisturizing creams can be used to relieve the itching and hydrate the skin. Cortisone creams are good for allergic reactions. Inherent skin problems such as recurring Eczema and Psoriasis are more difficult to treat, however.

Hives
Hives on the back of a person’s hand

Hives, also known as urticaria, is a skin outbreak that looks like red, swollen plaques that fade away in a couple of hours or even days. It represents a sudden body reaction to exposure to or contact with allergens. They usually cause itching, but a burning and stinging sensation can accompany the affected skin, especially if the skin is particularly dry.

Hives can manifest on any part of the body and they can vary in size from a couple inches to a plaque (red and swollen area) the size of a plate. Hive formation is caused by exposure to sunlight, insect stings, certain types of medications, and foods. The most common foods that cause hives are chocolate, fish, nuts, eggs, tomatoes, and milk. Also, you have more chances of getting hives from fresh, rather than cooked, foods.

There is also a difference between acute and chronic hives. Acute hives have a defined cause and they usually go away once the harmful substance is removed or passed through the system. Chronic hives last for more than six weeks and their cause is difficult to identify. Possible medical problems that are related to hives include hepatitis, thyroid disease, cancer, and generalized infections.

Rash vs Hives

So what is the difference between a rash and hives?

You could say that rashes and hives look the same, but a dermatologist and a general practitioner can tell you that they are different skin problems. For starters, rashes are reddish, sometimes round, sometimes irregular, and they cover extended areas of the body. Hives, on the other hand, are red (sometimes even pinkish) and can also be elevated, as well as flat on the surface of the skin. They usually appear on one part of the body, depending on the infected area.

Hives are associated with allergic reactions, whereas rashes are associated with immune diseases. Therefore, the treatment for each differs and this is why you should know what to treat and how. Antihistamines are recommended in case of hives, while local application creams and oral treatments are recommended for rashes.

Comparison Chart

RashHives
Red, round, or irregular, covering large parts of the bodyRed or pinkish, flat or elevated, covering a part of the body (on the arm, on the upper body etc.)
Associated with infections and immune diseases (Eczema and Psoriasis)Associated with allergic reactions
Treated with local cream applications and oral medicationTreated with antihistamines
Has a variety of causes which need to be correctly identified in order to decide on the treatmentOccur when a person is exposed to a substance that causes an allergic reaction (sun, insect bites, specific medication, or specific foods)
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