Hives, also known as urticaria, is a skin condition that affects up to 20% of the population at some point in their life. Characterized by patches of welts or wheals on the skin, this condition can be both bothersome and unsightly. In 1-2% of people, hives are chronic and last longer than 6 weeks. In this post, we’ll go into the details of chronic hives including what it is, how to identify them, potential causes, and treatment options available.
What are Chronic Hives?
Hives are a skin reaction that causes itchy red, purple, or skin-colored rashes (called welts or wheals) to appear on the skin. The rashes can vary in size from a few millimeters to several inches and will turn white in the center when pressure is applied. They may only appear in one place or be spread around the entire body, and they can fade and reappear quickly. During outbreaks, sufferers may experience painful facial swelling (angioedema) focusing on the eyes, cheeks, and/or lips. For patients who experience these symptoms longer than 6 weeks, the condition is classified as chronic. Chronic hives patients may experience recurring flare-ups of their hives for months or years!
Causes of Chronic Hives
Hives are caused by a sudden release of histamine and other chemical messengers of the immune system into the skin in response to some trigger. These immune system substances cause the blood vessels in the skin to leak, causing swelling, itchiness, and discoloration seen with hives. The trigger that causes the release of immune system chemicals can vary from person to person. Some of the most common triggers that can lead to hives include:
- Allergic reactions to foods, medications, insect bites, etc.
- Extreme temperatures
- Sun exposure
- Prolonged pressure on the skin
- Certain medical conditions
- Alcohol use
- Caffeine use
- Eating certain food additives
Any of these triggers can cause a flare-up of acute hives, but when the flare-ups continue for over 6 weeks, the hives are considered chronic. It’s not understood why some cases of acute hives turn into chronic hives. However, in 30-50% of chronic hives cases, researchers believe that a malfunctioning immune system may be the cause. In these cases, other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may also be observed. Researchers and physicians have also noted a connection between chronic hives and other medical conditions such as viral hepatitis, intestinal parasites, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism.
Treatment for Chronic Hives in Tampa Bay
Treatment for chronic hives mostly involves controlling symptoms and avoiding the trigger, so there are many potential treatments to relieve chronic hives depending on the underlying cause. For those with chronic hives triggered by allergies, treatment by a qualified allergist is essential, along with other members of a collaborative treatment team like a dermatologist or rheumatologist. In Tampa Bay, you can find relief from your food, drug, environmental, and insect allergies at Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates of Tampa Bay. Our team will help identify your allergy triggers and develop a customized treatment plan including lifestyle changes, medication, and immunotherapy to get you back to your best self and in control of chronic hives flare-ups. Contact us at (813) 971-9743 to schedule your appointment today.