Popularly known as “hives”, urticaria is a skin disease associated with itching and blisters. In the most severe cases the blisters can spread to other organs (especially the lips, trachea and eyelids). It is a common condition that affects 20-30% of the population. Urticaria can cause skin lesions anywhere on the body that generally disappear within about 24 hours. Fresh blisters can form adjacent to the healed lesions. There are two types of urticaria: the acute and chronic forms. In its acute form, the disease clears up in less than six weeks. But in its chronic form it can last longer than six weeks and have a negative impact on the patient’s quality of life.
There are various possible causes of urticaria, but the most common is allergic factors, especially to medication (mainly antibiotics, pain killers and epilepsy medication) and food (shellfish, fish, milk, nuts, peanuts, potatoes, beans, celery, parsley, carrots, spices, rice, bananas, apples, and oranges). In addition, urticaria can be triggered by food additives, respiratory allergens (such as plant and tree pollen), insect stings (such as bee stings) and implants (such as false teeth and dentures). Urticaria is more common in people who are prone to allergies. This is because they are more sensitive than other people to the substances listed above and show a greater reaction to them.
Urticaria may also be related to environmental changes or changes in body temperature. In susceptible people it may develop after consuming something cold like ice cream. It can also form as a result of sweating after physical exercise. It can be associated with the use of vibrating devices. Along with exercise it may be related to the consumption of nuts, shellfish or wheat.
Urticaria may not always be related to allergic factors. It can also be caused by points of infection in the body (dental infections, or infections in the urinary tract), radio-contrast medications used in radiology examinations, anesthetics used in surgery, and stress.
The cause of urticaria in the great majority of cases that last longer than six weeks may never be determined. The condition, which constantly itches, has a negative impact on sufferers’ daily Lives. Urticaria patients need to be examined very carefully. In the event that the patient is not properly assessed and the symptoms become more severe, life threatening conditions may arise. Swelling of the lips and trachea can restrict breathing and require emergency intervention.
For these reasons the condition requires a very thorough examination procedure, with detailed information on the patient’s daily life, working life, habits and any other diseases or conditions that may exist. Allergy and blood tests may be required in order to establish the cause. The treatment of mild cases is easy. However, the longer-term form of the disease can be challenging for both patient and doctor.