What Is Chronic Urticaria? Is It Life-threatening?

About 20 per cent of people are likely to be affected with hives, otherwise also known as urticaria, at some point in their life. There are a lot of situations and/or substances that can trigger its occurrence. Hives begin to show up initially in the form of an itchy patch on the skin which slowly turns into red, swollen welts.

What Is Chronic Urticaria?

When the appearance of hives lasts for more than six weeks, sometimes until months or years, then this condition is known as chronic urticaria. In general, there are two kinds: acute or the short-lived one and long-term, which is chronic.

What is chronic urticaria

Chronic idiopathic urticaria is diagnosed when in spite of studying the detailed history of the patients and performing thorough checkup with tests, the doctor still remains clueless about the cause of the ailment.

Most of the time, such cases can be associated with some sort of immune findings. Urticaria can sometimes be linked to the presence of thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, hormonal issues or in some rare cases, cancer.

For prevention of chronic urticaria, you would primarily need to focus on avoiding the triggers.

  • What Are The Causes Of Chronic Urticaria?
  • What Are The Symptoms?
  • Symptoms specific to chronic hives:
  • Is It Life-threatening?
  • What Are The Treatment Options?
  • How To Prevent It?

What Are The Causes Of Chronic Urticaria?

One of the prime causes of chronic urticaria is autoimmunity. Endocrine and autoimmune diseases have been linked to the occurrence of chronic urticaria - to name a few: systemic lupus erythematosus, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroid disease and cryoglobulinemia.

Bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections and viral infections such as hepatitis and stomach flu are also considered triggers of chronic hives.

Listed below are some of the other general triggers that can cause hives:

• Foods such as peanuts, shellfish, eggs

• Insect stings

• Certain medications (aspirin, antibiotics, ibuprofen)

• Pollen

• Pet dander

• Certain plants (poison oak, poison ivy)

• Sun exposure

• Too much cold or heat

• Latex

• Blood transfusions

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms of hives can last for minutes, or sometimes in the case of chronic hives, they can last for several months or years.

Although they have a close resemblance to bug bites, urticaria has different symptoms.

• Hives appear as raised bumps that are very itchy. They can be red or the colour of the skin itself.

• They show the process of blanching (that is when pressed, the centre of the hive would turn white).

• The bumps will have clear edges.

• Hives can occur on any part of the body.

• Hives can change shape, disappear and then reappear within short durations.

• They can also move around to other parts of your body.

Symptoms specific to chronic hives:

• They would occur almost daily.

• They are highly itchy and would last a minimum of six weeks.

• Each hive lasts less than 24 hours.

• They do not leave behind a scar.

Medical assistance should be obtained. You would need to undergo skin tests to identify the cause.

Is It Life-threatening?

Although chronic hives can't be called life-threatening, if swelling in the throat creates restrictions in proper breathing, then you might need immediate medical assistance.

What Are The Treatment Options?

Sometimes diagnosing hives is simple, especially when the trigger is a food. However, other cases might require challenge tests to identify the cause. You wouldn't need to go in for extensive testing in case it is just one episode of hives.

Nevertheless, chronic hives should be evaluated by a professional. Your allergist might send you for urine test, skin test and blood test to perform the diagnosis.

If the cause of hives can be identified, you are suggested to stay away from the trigger.

• Don't eat foods that cause hives.

• Avoid the use of harsh soaps. Frequent showers might help in reducing the itching sensation. Prevent yourself from scratching.

• Avoid wearing tight clothes.

• If hives are caused due to cold then avoid swimming in cold water. Always carry epinephrine auto-injector. Wear a scarf in cold weather.

• Wear a sunblock when out during the day.

• Keep track of any particular medicine that you might be allergic to.

Antihistamines are best suitable for the treatment of hives. You can also buy them over the counter or acquire them through a doctor's prescription. These block the effect of histamine (the chemical that causes allergic symptoms).

Antihistamines are long-lasting. Your allergist may also recommend a combination of antihistamines looking at the conditions and cause of hives.

However, if it is chronic urticaria, you might need a long treatment (temporarily) with prednisone (an immune modulator) to reduce the severity of the effect of hives.

In case you have trouble breathing, then you might be prescribed an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector. You can keep this with you all the time.

How To Prevent It?

Avoiding the known triggers is the best way to prevent hives. For instance, if you know that a particular food such as peanut or eggs causes hives, you should refrain from eating anything that might contain these ingredients.

You can consult your allergist after the very first occurrence of hives. You might be suggested medication that would help you prevent hives in the future.

Simple changes in your lifestyle can be helpful in preventing hives from reoccurring. Avoid exposure to substances that cause allergic reactions. You can also choose to opt for allergy shots that would help in reducing the chances of having to face hives again in the future.

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    Read more about: immunity
    Story first published: Friday, August 31, 2018, 18:15 [IST]
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