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What is urticaria?

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Urticaria or commonly known as hives are elevated, itchy rashes that manifest on the skin. The rash can occur on one region of the body or spread to cover wide areas. The affected area has the tendency to change in appearance within 24 hours and typically subsides in a few days. Once it completely clears up within 6 weeks, it is called acute urticaria.

Oftentimes, the rash can persist or come and go for more than 6 weeks, often for several years, although this is uncommon. This type of urticaria is called by doctors as chronic urticaria.

Who are at risk?

Urticaria is considered as a common condition that many experience at some point in their lives. Children are often affected by this condition as well as women between 30-60 years old and those who have a history of allergies.

The long-term form of urticaria is considered less common. Take note that women are more likely to develop this urticaria than men.

What are the causes of urticaria?

In most cases, treatment is not required for urticaria since the rash often subsides within a few days.

Urticaria develops once a trigger causes an increase in the level of histamine and other chemical messengers that are released in the skin. Take note that these substances can cause the blood vessels in the affected skin to open up which makes them red or pinkish and leaky. The additional fluid in the tissues causes itchiness and swelling. It is important to note that histamine is released due to the following:

  • Cold or heat exposure
  • Allergic reaction to certain substances such as latex
  • Infection
  • Effects of certain chemicals present in some food and medications

In some cases, the short-term urticaria has no evident cause. As for the long-term cases, there is also no obvious cause. Many experts believe that it is often due to the erroneous response of the immune system which attacks the healthy tissues.

Treatment for urticaria

In most cases, treatment is not required for urticaria since the rash often subsides within a few days. In case the itchiness is the cause of the discomfort, antihistamines can help. These medications are available over-the-counter at drug stores or pharmacies.

A short course of steroid tablets might be required in severe cases of urticaria. If the individual has persistent urticaria, a dermatologist should be consulted. The treatment typically involves medications to minimize the symptoms while identifying and avoiding potential triggers.

Possible complications

Some individuals with acute and chronic urticaria can also develop swelling in the develop swelling in the deeper skin layers which is called angioedema. This condition can cause severe swelling in various parts of the body including the lips, eyes and genitals.

Antihistamines and short courses of oral corticosteroids can be given to minimize the swelling. Even steroid injections might be required in severe cases of angioedema.

What is anaphylaxis?

It is important to note that urticaria can be an initial symptom of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. This can occur along with other symptoms such as swollen lips, eyes, feet and hands, feeling faint, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and even loss of consciousness.

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