What is urticaria?

Urticaria is also known as hives or nettle rash in which red patches and weals occur in the skin. The surface weals may occur with deeper swellings called angioedema. An affected individual may have urticaria alone, or angioedema alone, or both together. 
The most common form is called 'ordinary urticaria', which is usually divided into 'acute' and 'chronic' forms depending on how long it has been presentUrtica

What causes urticaria?

Urticaria is due to the release of histamine from mast cells. This can be triggered in many ways which includes: medicine, infections, foods, exercise, pressure on the skin, and by other physical factors. However, in the common 'ordinary' form of urticaria, often no cause can be found.

What are the symptoms and signs of urticaria?

Urticaria looks like red or white patches of a few millimetres or several centimetres which are itchy. Although urticaria can be distressing, because of the itching and its appearance, it has no direct effect on general health. Rarely, the swelling of angioedema may affect the tongue or throat, causing difficulty with breathing or swallowing. This can be alarming but rarely life-threatening.

What is the treatment for ordinary urticaria?

  • Antihistamines block the effect of histamine, and reduce itching and the rash in most people. No particular antihistamine is best, so you may need to try different ones to find the one that works for you. Antihistamines may need to be taken for as long as the urticaria persists.
  • Other treatments may be tried if antihistamines fail.
  • Emollients can be soothing.
  • Seek medical advice urgently if you are having problems with breathing or swallowing.