Hives are an inflammation of the skin triggered when the immune system releases histamine.
This causes small blood vessels to leak, which leads to swelling in the skin. Swelling in deep layers of the skin is called angioedema. There are two kinds of urticaria, acute and chronic. Acute urticaria occurs after eating a particular food or coming in contact with a particular trigger. It can also be triggered by non-allergic causes such as heat or exercise, as well as medications, foods or insect bites. Chronic urticaria is rarely caused by specific triggers and so allergy tests are usually not helpful. Chronic urticaria can last for many months or years. Although they are often uncomfortable and sometimes painful, hives are not contagious.