If you’re experiencing an outbreak of itchy, red and swollen welts on your skin which have lasted for six weeks or more, it’s likely that you’re suffering from chronic urticaria. These can appear anywhere on your body, including your face, lips and throat. The wheals or welts can vary in size and sometimes spread together to form larger welts. While episodes of acute urticaria generally only last for a few hours at a time, if you’re suffering from chronic urticaria, the hives are likely to come and go over a period of months, and in some cases, can last for years.
The condition isn’t contagious, and although it’s not life threatening, it can cause extreme distress, pain and discomfort if you’re a sufferer.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Urticaria appears as red, itchy welts or hives on your skin. While it does occur in both men and women, chronic urticaria is more prevalent in women aged between 20 and 40. Chronic urticaria is classed as an autoimmune condition, which usually happens when your body develops an allergic reaction to particular allergens. However, for a high proportion of cases, there’s no obvious reason why it happens at all. During the allergic reaction, histamines are released by the immune system, causing the characteristic red, itchy bumps.
If you suffer from hives on a regular basis and it’s been impossible to identify the cause, then you’re likely to be diagnosed with Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU), meaning that it’s extremely difficult or virtually impossible to identify the trigger for your condition.
How is Chronic Urticaria diagnosed?
To ensure that you get a correct diagnosis it’s important to visit your doctor, who will check your medical history and give you a physical examination. You’ll be questioned on the things you have come into contact with which may have caused the allergic reaction. Almost one fifth of cases are triggered by cold, heat and exercise, so these things may also be a factor. However, it’s highly likely that the exact cause of your hives will not be identified, especially if you have no previous history of allergies. On rare occasions, chronic hives can be a symptom of a more serious illness or condition such as a problem with the thyroid or liver.
So if you’ve been suffering from recurring episodes of hives, it’s probably time to make an appointment with your doctor, and let the professionals give you a definitive diagnosis.