scratching rashes

Hives and Rashes: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever had raised, itchy welts on your skin, you may have wondered if they are hives or rashes. Rashes take many forms, usually presenting themselves as inflammation or discoloration of your skin. Hives can resemble rashes since they consist of itchy welts, and they both look swollen and red. 

Hives are triggered by allergies, while rashes have a wide range of possible causes. Despite looking similar, they require different treatments. It is crucial to understand the difference between the two, so you can treat your hives or rash properly and prevent them from worsening. Here’s what you need to know:

All About Hives

Hives are raised welts that feel incredibly itchy and can vary in size from tiny to large. They show up anywhere on your body and typically disappear in 24 hours, although new hives may appear to replace them. It’s easy to identify hives since they manifest as raised, pink or red patches or bumps and are single welts or bigger clusters of them. Sometimes they are accompanied by a stinging sensation. 

Some people experience hives in the same place, usually associated with a specific trigger, like food or medication. Doctors refer to this as fixed hives. You can quickly resolve hives by staying away from the trigger, which can be food like fruits, milk, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, pollen, insect bites, animals, and medicines. However, some people develop hives for other reasons, like scratching, pressure, infections, exposure to the sun, chemicals, or extreme temperatures, stress, and illness.

All About Rashes

On the other hand, “rash” is used to describe any sort of inflammation or discoloration that makes your skin appear different. Rashes are usually a symptom of a different health issue. They can occur in one place or spread throughout your body. 

Unlike hives, rashes can look different from each other. They can be red, blotchy, scaly, or blistered. Rashes are typically itchy, but some can be painful. You can get a rash when you’re sick with another illness, like measles or shingles, so it’s crucial to visit an urgent care center when you have an inflammation accompanied by a fever or significant pain.

There are many kinds of rashes. Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is one of the most common rashes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a definite cause, but it can be hereditary. Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition where you’ll have a crusty-looking or greasy rash that pops up on and around the scalp, caused by several environmental factors, your health, and your family history. Contact dermatitis is a rash caused by touching an object that irritates your skin, like detergent, chemicals, plants, or some types of body care. Rashes may also appear due to viral, fungal, or yeast infections.

Diagnosing Hives and Rashes

Rashes and hives have different underlying causes, so it is crucial to visit your family physician as soon as possible to isolate the cause and seek the appropriate treatment. Doctors can typically identify hives simply by looking at them, but it can be challenging to pinpoint the trigger. They may need to conduct a battery of tests like allergy tests, bloodwork, or even a skin biopsy to determine the cause.

On the other hand, diagnosing rashes is a bit more complicated. The doctor will look at your rash and ask you several questions, such as when they first appeared, if they are itchy or painful, and other symptoms you may be experiencing. These symptoms may be difficulty breathing or a fever, which may signal a severe allergic reaction.

The doctor will try to identify the cause of your rash by asking about the food, chemicals, and medication you have consumed recently. They’ll also want to know about your exposure to unfamiliar places that may have had strange plants or animals. They will ask you about new body care products you’ve been using, like detergents, which can result in rashes. However, if they suspect you of having a viral or fungal infection, they’ll take a skin swab and send it to a lab for analysis.


When you have a cluster of itchy bumps, it can be difficult to tell whether they’re hives or rashes. By understanding the differences between the two and seeing your primary care doctor right away, you can get the proper treatment and prevent the inflammation from happening again.

Aspen Medical Center is a walk-in clinic and urgent care center that provides primary care to people of all ages. We offer a wide range of state-of-the-art services, like on-site x-ray, urgent care appointments, sports physicals, and more. Contact us today to book an appointment.