Chronic Urticaria (Hives)
What is Chronic Urticaria?
This common condition presents as distressing and often widespread itch and swollen lumps in the skin. These may last from minutes to hours but often recur.
Any part of the body can be affected. Symptoms are often worsened by heat/exercise or by pressure, for example under the elasticated parts of underwear. The itch can sometimes be severe, becoming a very distressing situation. The term ‘chronic’ is used when symptoms last longer than six weeks.
Acute (less than six weeks) Urticaria is a different problem. This is often more likely due to allergy than chronic urticaria and usually does not come under the care of Dermatologists.
WHAT CAUSES CHRONIC URTICARIA?
This is still not fully understood and remains an area of active research. It is often difficult to find an underlying cause, although we always try.
Chronic Urticaria is not an allergic problem, rather the immune system appears to be overactive in an unhelpful way. Specifically, Dermatologists DO NOT investigate food allergies and it is extremely rare for a food allergy to be the cause of Urticaria.
It can sometimes be triggered by a viral or other infection such as a cold or the flu, or even conditions such as athlete’s foot (tinea) or chronic gum disease. Stress may play a role. Overall, in most patients there is no obvious underlying cause. This is frustrating but the problem can still be effectively treated.
How is Chronic Urticaria treated?
Nearly all cases eventually clear after a while but can sometimes take over 12 months. Antihistamines work extremely well in almost all cases although they only control the symptoms rather than truly curing Urticaria. This means antihistamines may need to be taken for long periods of time until the condition spontaneously resolves. Nonetheless if patients are willing to taking them on a daily basis their symptoms will usually disappear completely.
Occasionally symptoms don’t respond to antihistamines. In these cases, there are other tablet treatments which can help so it is rare not to be able to treat this condition effectively.