Urticaria is a condition characterized by rash or hives. Chronic urticaria means that those symptoms persist, on and off, for at least six weeks, during which time a person can also experience swelling of the lips and tongue. The exact cause of chronic urticaria is not clear.
What is urticaria?
Urticaria or hives is caused by leakage of fluid from small blood vessels underneath the skin. It can be acute or chronic. Acute urticaria is far more common than the chronic type. It develops suddenly and rarely lasts more than two days. Acute urticaria is very common and affects one out of six people at least once in life.
Chronic urticaria, on the other hand, is much less common, affecting only one in every thousand people. In chronic urticaria the rash is present on most days, if not constantly, for at least six weeks.
Symptoms of chronic urticaria
Chronic urticaria is characterized by swollen or raised portions of the skin, called weals. Weals can appear anywhere on the body and they red or white, surrounded by a circle of red skin. They can be of any shape but usually they are round. In most cases weals affect only one or two parts of the body but sometimes they can develop all over the body. They can even appear close to each other and form large ones.
Weals usually fade and disappear in 24 hours, but in chronic urticaria they either come back soon after or form on other parts of the body.
Other symptoms of chronic urticaria include distress, anxiety and depression due to negative effects of urticaria on the quality of life, angio-edema, which is a related condition that affects half the people who have chronic urticaria and swelling of the tongue and the lips that sometimes occurs and that, if severe, can make it difficult to breathe.
Causes of chronic urticaria
It is not completely clear what exactly causes chronic urticaria. The reason may be an underlying autoimmune disease, in which the body practically starts attacking itself and causing allergic reactions, among other things.
Another possible cause is an allergy to certain foods, medications, chemicals and such.
Physical urticaria is a type of urticaria in which weals develop when the skin is physically stimulated, for example touched, scratched, stroked, pinched, and similar.
In addition, Helicobacter pylori was found to be present in the gastrointestinal tract of many people who have chronic urticaria, so this is being investigated as a possible cause.
Treatment for chronic urticaria
There is no cure for chronic urticaria, probably because it is not clear what is its exact cause. However, antihistamines, which are given to people who suffer from allergies, can be used to at least alleviate the flare-ups and to make the condition more tolerable. Antihistamines can be taken all the time, as prevention, or occasionally, when the weals appear.