Chronic urticaria is also known as hives. It is a skin disorder considered to be of unknown origin lasting 6 weeks or longer, hives lasting less than 6 weeks are considered to be acute not chronic It is generally viewed as an allergic response, autoimmune disorder or stress related disorder. The causes of chronic urticaria can be difficult to diagnose with only a few good tests available at this time.
With chronic urticaria the skin becomes red, itchy and inflamed as the condition progresses it often appears as somewhat circular, raised, red welts or wheals but can take other shapes as well, or simply appear to be scratches. This reaction can take seconds or several hours and can come and go quickly. Apparently, approximately 60% of sufferers have a history of allergies or autoimmune disorders. The wheals can appear on any area of the body. Some occur in deeper tissues and are called angioedema, these can be inside the throat, on the genitals, eyes, or hands and cause rather ugly red swelling. The swelling generally goes down in a few hours but can be replaced by swelling in other areas. Swelling in the throat can be indicative of an anaphylactic response and can interfere with breathing and needs to be seen by a physician.
Chronic urticaria can be caused by a rather large number of things most of which are related to allergies, autoimmune disorders and histamine reactions. Cold water, hot water, tight clothing, sensitivities to certain fabrics such as nylon, polypropylene, elastic and wool can also cause hives. Several foods such as berries, chocolate, eggs, tomatoes, fish and milk have been implicated in chronic urticaria. Any food that has a high percentage of histamines in it such as cold water ocean fish, shellfish, and cured meats can create a reaction. Food dyes and preservatives, spices and medications can also cause hives. There is an increasing amount of evidence that effexor (a common antidepressant) may also cause symptoms in susceptible people. There appears to be a genetic component and as such allergies, autoimmune disorders and hives can be seen in family groups. Not everyone has to have the same condition it may appear as multiple conditions all relating to the immune system. There is also some indication that thyroid problems may contribute to chronic urticaria as well.
The treatments for chronic urticaria are as varied as the causes and can take considerable time to research. Food histories are crucial to discovering the problems, as are known allergies. There are elimination diets designed to isolate edible allergens. Avoiding allergens is a step in the right direction but finding out what they are is most important. Stress can also contribute to hives and should be avoided or limited in order to allow the body to heal. There are topical creams to treat the itch, injectable immunosuppressants, and antihistamine tablets that can help suppress the reaction. In addition there are alternative, naturopathic and herbal remedies that can help heal the skin.