Learn About Ailments | Urticaria


Urticaria, more commonly known as hives, is an allergic reaction to a substance or food, and can also be caused by stress. It results in red, itchy skin welts, which are an inflammatory reaction in the skin.

In This Article
Did you know? Causes of urticaria
Symptoms of urticaria Diagnosis of urticaria
Related Terms Common Misspellings

  • Around 20% of the population are affected by urticaria at some point in life
  • 75% of people with chronic hives have symptoms lasting for one year
  • Urticaria is most common in middle-aged women
  • In 50% of urticaria cases, the allergen is never identified

Urticaria is categorised as either acute or chronic and can be triggered by a number of factors.

Acute urticaria is caused by a release of histamine from under the skin. Histamine causes tiny blood vessels to dilate and leak fluid which then gathers causing a rash. While half of all urticaria cases have no known cause, common triggers include:
  • Medications – e.g. aspirin, antibiotics
  • Food allergies – commonly nuts, shellfish, strawberries, chocolate
  • Infections – e.g. influenza, colds, glandular fever
  • Irritants – e.g. chemicals, insect bites, nettles
  • Physical factors – e.g. sunlight, exercise, heat, cold, pressure
Chronic urticaria isn't usually activated by these triggers but is an autoimmune response by the body. Autoimmune reactions are caused by the body releasing antibodies to fight infections which results in the release of histamine. The antibodies are released for no known reason, however the autoimmune reaction has been attributed to factors such as:
  • stress
  • medications
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • warmth
  • tight-fitting clothes
In some cases, chronic urticaria is caused by illness and infection such as thyroid problems or hepatitis.

The main symptom of urticaria is a pink or red rash on the skin. The rash appears as a number of wheals which are oval in shape and itchy. Wheals can appear anywhere on the body and in acute urticaria the rash can last for several days or even weeks. In the case of chronic urticaria, symptoms last for six weeks or more.

The appearance of urticaria can sometimes indicate an anaphylaxis reaction which is extremely serious. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:
  • swollen lips, tongue, throat or mouth lining
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased heart rate
  • extreme anxiety
  • feeling faint
If you experience these symptoms along with urticaria then seek emergency medical attention immediately.

A GP will make a diagnosis of urticaria by examining the rash on your skin. What caused your urticaria may prove difficult given that half of all cases have no know cause however the GP may ask a few questions such as:
  • where you work
  • do you have pets
  • what you eat
  • do you take any medications
  • have you been on holiday recently
  • have you had any previous illnesses or infections
  • is there a family history of the condition
By identifying potential triggers you can avoid them in the future. Most cases of acute urticaria resolve themselves within a few days.

In the case of chronic urticaria (symptoms that last more than six weeks), the GP may refer you for further tests to identify any underlying cause of the condition.

Tests include:
  • blood test (for anaemia)
  • stool sample (for intestinal parasites)
  • ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) test to check your immune system
  • thyroid function test
  • liver function test

  • Hives
  • Chronic Urticaria
  • Acute Urticaria
  • Idiopathic Urticaria
  • Angioedema
  • Erythema
  • Itching
  • Eczema
  • Urticarial Vasculitis
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Prickly Heat

Ertecaria, Urticaria, Urtcaria, Urticaria Symptons

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