A medical condition that results in chronic hives, autoimmune urticaria is marked by itchy red welts that are not caused by a specific allergen or any obvious triggers. When this occurs, the hives may be the result of an underlying autoimmune disorder such as thyroid disease or lupus.
Generally not life-threatening, autoimmune urticaria can be debilitating. In order to treat symptoms, antihistamines or other such medications are used to alleviate underlying autoimmune conditions where appropriate.
Urticaria is the medical name of hives, which are essentially pink or red welts that develop spontaneously in the skin. This process begins when the chemical known as histamine is released, causing blood plasma to excrete from blood vessels in the skin.
In some patients, hives are caused by conditions like stress or heat. They might also be due to a reaction to a specific food or medications like aspirin, codeine, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Rarely, hives develop with no obvious cause.
Hives that remain for longer than six weeks, or that disappear frequently but keep recurring, are known as chronic urticaria. In the case of autoimmune urticaria, the outbreaks of hives do not seem to be caused by anything and are thus believed to be the result of an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s cells to perceive other cells as threats. This condition can be detected through physical exams, blood tests, skin tests, and examining a patient’s full medical history.
To treat autoimmune urticaria, patients are often recommended to take oral antihistamines daily to prevent outbreaks of hives. Often, doctors will suggest taking a non-drowsy antihistamine like loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra) as the initial treatment.
Other kinds of antihistamines, which might be sedating, include chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). In some instances, doctors might encourage the use of other medications to regulate autoimmune urticaria, like ranitidine (Zantac), brief use of oral corticosteroids like prednisone, or specific tricyclic antidepressants like doxepin (Zonalon) to stop itching.
Hives can take many forms and are not limited to autoimmune urticaria. A similar condition is angioedema, which causes swelling in the throat, face, or genitalia that can burn or itch and sometimes be life-threatening. Physical urticaria are a category of hives that can be triggered by vibration, sun exposure, heat, pressure, or any other physical stimuli, but quickly fades once the stimulus has stopped.