Hives (urticaria) are red or skin colored itchy bumps that can come and go. Hives usually last from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Sudden hives are generally associated with an allergic reaction or illness. When hives occur on most days of the week for 6 weeks or greater it is called chronic hives. Chronic hives can be triggered by physical stimuli such as heat, cold, exercise, sunlight, pressure, and water.
Other rare causes of chronic hives are autoimmune disorders, chronic infections, endocrine disorders, or hormonal therapies. There is no cause found in 80-90% of cases. If a cause cannot be identified through testing and a detailed history and exam, the condition is called chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU). Up to 40% of people with CIU will have accompanying angioedema (swelling beneath the skin). This typically involves the lips, cheeks, eyelids, hands, feet, or genitals.
How common are chronic hives?
Approximately 1% of the general population has chronic idiopathic urticaria (chronic hives). It can occur in adults and children. However, it is most common in people between the ages of 30-50. Women are twice as likely compared to men to have chronic hives.
Will the itching ever end?
The average length of time most people have hives is 2-5 years. Hives will resolve in 30-50% of people within 1 year. For some individuals, hives can last up to five years or longer.
What should I do if I have chronic hives?
The good news is that most chronic hives will respond to higher doses of over the counter antihistamines such as Zyrtec (cetirizine), Claritin (loratadine), or Allegra (fexofenadine). Occasionally additional medications and lifestyle changes are required to control hives.