Baby Hives: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Baby crying.

Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

Your baby wakes up from a nap covered in pink welts. Besides a little extra fussiness, your baby seems fine, but the welts are everywhere and they alarm you. Within an hour, some of the welts disappear, and then reappear on other parts of your little one’s body.

Are these hives? Something else serious? Is your baby in danger? What is causing these? Should you take your baby to the doctor? And if so, when? 

If your baby appears to be experiencing hives, it’s natural for you to feel shocked and worried. Hives have a distressing appearance and it’s hard not to think something is terribly wrong.

Rest assured, though, except in a small number of cases, hives are generally not a medical emergency, and usually more of an annoyance than anything else.

Here’s what there is to know about hives, when to seek medical attention, and what to do if you find yourself caring for a baby who is diagnosed with hives.

Causes of Hives in Babies

Hives in babies can be triggered by many different things, including medication, insect bites, allergic reactions, and temperature changes. Interestingly, in babies and young children, the most frequent trigger of hives are viruses—sometimes in a child who has mild virus symptoms or no symptoms at all.

But perhaps the most baffling aspect of hives—and one that frustrates worried parents—is that in the majority of cases, the cause of hives can’t be identified. As the Academy Of American Pediatrics (AAP) notes, a cause can’t be identified in up to a third of all cases of hives in young children.

Still, that doesn’t mean that hives don’t have specific causes, or that these causes are not worth investigating.

Especially if your child’s hives are bothering them, recurring frequently, or are accompanied by other concerning symptoms (especially signs of serious allergies or anaphylaxis), it’s important to get to the root causes of the hives.

The causes of hives can be divided into two basic categories: non-allergic causes and allergic causes.

Non-Allergic Causes

  • Viruses and other infections
  • Quick changes in temperature—going from cold to hot, or hot to cold
  • Stress
  • Exercising
  • High exposure to sunlight
  • Tight clothing

Allergic Causes

  • Allergies to certain foods, most commonly peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, milk, shellfish, and food dyes/additives
  • Insect bites, most commonly bee stings
  • Latex
  • Animal or pet dander
  • Medications, particularly antibiotics and pain reducing medications
  • Some plants: weeds and grass especially
  • Chemicals and perfumes from cleaners, soaps, and lotions

In most cases, figuring out the cause of your child’s hives can wait for a doctor evaluation, even in the cases of possible mild allergic reactions.

However, anytime your baby or young child is experiencing hives that are accompanied by serious allergy symptoms, such swelling of the throat, trouble breathing, or vomiting, you should seek emergency care promptly.

Symptoms

Children get all kinds of rashes when they are little, sometimes mild and sometimes more serious. How can you tell if your baby’s rash might be hives? First, like all medical conditions, you need a doctor to examine and diagnose your baby to know for sure if the rash you are seeing is hives.

Still, hives have some specific traits that distinguish them from other common childhood rashes. Here are some clues that what you are seeing is a case of the hives.

Appearance of Hives

  • Red, slightly raised bumps or small welts
  • Size can vary from as little as half an inch to several inches
  • They vary widely in shape but are not one uniform shape or size
  • Hives often look like mosquito bites to parents
  • Hives often appear red, pinkish, or purplish with a white center
  • Usually, if you press the center of a hive, it will turn white

Other Patterns and Symptoms of Hives

  • Hives usually appear in clusters; they may remain active for an hour or two, disappear, and then show up somewhere else on the body
  • Hives usually are itchy—sometimes very itchy—but this is not always the case
  • Hives in children may also be accompanied by swelling of the hands and feet
  • Usually hives go away on their own in a matter of days or weeks, in rare cases, hives may last months or years
  • Most cases of hives are not accompanied by other concerning symptoms, though they may be itchy and irritate your child

How Common Are Hives?

Despite their rather alarming appearance, hives are generally nothing to worry about. Besides that, they are very common.

Between 15 to 20% of us will have a bout of hives in our lives and pediatricians see many babies with hives in their practice.

How Long Do Hives Last?

Most cases of hives in babies resolve in 1 to 2 weeks. That may seem like a long time, but they will go away eventually!

In very rare instances, a child will have hives for a prolonged period. If that’s the case, you should talk to your doctor about causes and remedies.

Diagnosis

Although hives are nothing to panic about as long as they are not accompanied by worrisome symptoms, they are not something you should diagnose yourself, especially if you have a baby.

Occasionally what might look like hives to you may be the sign of a more serious viral or bacterial infection, rash, or allergic reaction. Babies and young children should be seen by their pediatrician anytime new symptoms appear.

Should I Take My Baby to the Doctor?

If your baby is generally happy, doesn’t have serious symptoms such as fever, labored breathing, or vomiting, you can call your pediatrician during office hours and discuss the hive-like rash you see on their body.

If your baby has never been diagnosed with hives before, it’s likely that you will be asked to come in for a visit, either that day or in the near future.

This is so that your doctor can examine your baby and rule out anything more serious. You should be sure to share all your baby’s symptoms, in case there is something you may not have realized is a cause for a more emergent visit.

Are Baby Hives Ever a Medical Emergency?

In the majority of cases, hives are not a medical emergency. However, in some cases, hives are one sign of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). In these cases, you should call 911 and seek immediate medical care.

When hives are accompanied by the following symptoms, call 911 or head to the emergency room:

  • Trouble breathing, labored breathing, wheezing
  • Sudden cough or hoarse/strained voice
  • Inability to swallow
  • Sudden slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness/turning blue

In addition, you should either call your doctor immediately or go to your local urgent care if the hives started soon after:

  • You introduced a new food to your baby (especially nuts, eggs, fish, or shellfish)
  • Your baby started a new medication
  • This is the first time your baby has had hives and they are under one year old
  • Your gut tells you that your child isn’t acting normally and seems quite sick

Treatment

The way your doctor decides to treat your baby’s hives will depend on the severity of their hives, what other symptoms they have, how much the hives are bothering them, and the age of your baby or young child.

For Mild Cases of Hives

  • Your doctor may not prescribe any medication for your baby if the hives are mild and not particularly bothering them.
  • If your baby is old enough, and your doctor thinks it’s warranted, they will recommend you give your baby an over-the-counter antihistamine. Keep in mind that most antihistamines are not recommended for babies under the age of two, so you must have clearance from your doctor, including proper dosage, before giving your child an antihistamine.

For More Severe Cases of Hives

  • If the hives are serious and bothering your baby, or if the hives are accompanied by other allergy symptoms, your provider may prescribe a steroid or even an epinephrine injection in addition to an antihistamine.
  • Again, dosages are age dependent and you must consult your doctor before administering these medications in an infant or young child.
  • If your doctor thinks your child may be at risk for a future severe allergic reaction, they may give you a prescription for an EpiPen. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instruction for when and how to administer the EpiPen.

How to Treat Baby Hives at Home

Most cases of hives are not serious and do not cause much discomfort for your baby. However, sometimes even less serious cases do cause itchiness and discomfort. Because antihistamines usually aren’t given to babies, you may be looking for ways to treat these discomforts at home. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Cool baths or cool washcloths can help soothe hives
  • Dressing your baby in loose fitting clothing can help as well
  • Trying to distract your baby with a funny song or a favorite book
  • Try to avoid the heat as much as possible when your baby has the hives; don’t overdress or spend prolonged periods in the sun; wear sunblock if you are heading outside in warm climates
  • If you have recently introduced new foods to your baby, consider laying off until the hives go away, as the new food may have caused the hives; talk to your doctor about possible food sensitivities or allergies
  • Use scent free soaps, and stay away from harsh laundry detergent or cleaners
  • If your baby broke out in hives after using a particular lotion or diaper cream, stop using that for now
  • If your baby developed hives after playing with a new pet, you may need to keep them away from this pet until you can determine if the pet is causing the hives

What if My Baby’s Hives Don’t Go Away?

Most cases of baby hives resolve in a few days or a few weeks. Occasionally, your baby will have hives for a prolonged period of time. If you saw your doctor for the initial bout of hives and the hives have continued for more than two weeks, you should call your doctor again.

Your doctor may want you to come in for another exam, they may refer you to a specialist, such as an allergist, or they may take a “wait and see” approach. Either way, prolonged hives, which come and go for months, do happen, and usually they are not a cause for alarm.

Prevention

Since the cause of many cases of baby hives aren’t identified, it is not always possible to prevent the next occurrence of them, if that happens at all.

However, if your baby continues to get hives, or you suspect a specific cause of your baby’s hives (such as something they ate, or a new soap they used, for example), you may be able to prevent a future occurrence by keeping them away from that trigger.

If you believe your baby’s instances of hives may have been caused by an allergic reaction or sensitivity, you should consider visiting a pediatric allergist in the future to determine if your child has any allergies. Keep in mind that many babies and young children outgrow mild allergies and sensitivities as they get older.

A Word From Verywell

Any parent who has dealt with a baby breaking out in hives will tell you that it can be a very stressful experience. Just the sheer appearance of red welts covering your little one’s body is enough to send any parent into a panic.

The first thing to do if you suspect your baby has hives is not to panic but rather to take a few deep breaths.

Hives in babies are very common, they are usually not an emergency, and they usually go away on their own. The next thing to do is to access your baby for any other symptoms besides hives. If they don’t have a fever, aren’t short of breath, and seem generally well, they are likely not in any kind of danger.

However, if they have any concerning symptoms, do not hesitate to seek medical care right away.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthy Children. Hives (Urticaria) in Children. Updated January 11, 2021.

Additional Reading
  • Nationwide Children’s. Hives. Updated November 1, 2017.

  • Seattle Children’s. Hives. Updated August 14, 2020.