What is Chronic Urticaria?

Urticaria, also known as hives, tends to affect around 1 in 6 people at some point in their lives, with it being most prevalent in women aged between 30 and 60, children and allergy sufferers. Urticaria becomes ‘chronic’ if it lasts for 6 weeks or more, with women being twice as likely to suffer from chronic urticaria as men. Fortunately it’s far less common than short term urticaria, affecting approximately 1 in every 1000 people.
How is it caused?
Chronic urticaria is believed to be caused by a disturbance in your auto-immune system which causes your body to damage some of its cells. It can also occur as a result of an allergy to food, perfumes or medicine and from bacteria and parasites, although this is extremely uncommon. It tends to arise when a trigger (such as an allergy) results in the release of high levels of histamine and other forms of chemical messengers in the skin. When this happens, the blood vessels in the affected area open up allowing fluid to seep into the tissues, thus causing the skin to become red or pink, swollen and itchy.
Why does this happen?
In the vast majority of long-term or chronic urticaria cases, it’s usually not possible to find an obvious reason for the condition. However experts tend to think that it happens as a result of the immune system attacking healthy tissue without cause, with between a third and a half of all cases of chronic urticaria being classed as an autoimmune reaction. During the reaction, the body produces antibodies which in turn trigger the release of histamine, which causes the red, swollen and itchy bumps.
While it’s not known why this happens, it sometimes occurs together with other autoimmune conditions such as lupus, where the immune system attacks the joints and skin, and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also linked with several other chronic illnesses and infections, such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, and some liver infections too.
Do certain things make chronic urticaria worse?
Many sufferers of chronic urticaria find that although it tends to come and go, exposure to certain triggers may make it re-occur or worsen existing symptoms. These triggers include things such as feeling stressed, drinking alcohol and caffeine, certain medications, insect bites and stings, and exposure to hot and cold temperatures or pressure on the skin.
If you think you are suffering from chronic urticaria, you may want to consult with your physician for a full diagnosis.