It’s World Allergy Week (2 – 8 April) when health organisations around the globe will be focusing on the agony of urticaria or hives as it is more commonly known, and how this condition can be better managed to improve sufferers’ quality of life.
Urticaria is one of the most common causes of skin inflammation worldwide and about 10% – 20% of South Africans will suffer from acute urticaria at least once in their lives.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – one of SA’s leading allergy treatment providers, says hives can be described as large, itchy, red rashes that typically appear out of the blue and usually abates within a few days. However, in some people the condition reoccurs and can last for more than six weeks at a time, which significantly impairs a person’s quality of life.
“According to Global Health Data Exchange (a catalogue for global health data, developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington), the annual years of healthy life lost per 100 000 South Africans from urticaria has increased by 71.5% since 1990, which is an average 3.1% a year. This points to the need for greater awareness and education to improve patient outcomes.
“Even though there is currently no cure for the disease, too many people with chronic urticaria give up hope when symptoms don’t go away, but with the help of an allergist who has the necessary expertise to diagnose and treat chronic urticaria, it can be better managed,” she says.
Up to 1.8% of South Africans have chronic urticaria, which can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, lips, tongue, throat or ears. Welts vary in size (from a pencil eraser to a dinner plate) and may join together to form larger areas known as plaques.
Urticaria is usually in response to an irritant when the body releases histamine that causes itching and inflammation.
Jennings cites irritants such as food (eggs, milk, nuts, fish, shellfish, chocolate, tomatoes), certain medication, cosmetics, insect stings, infections (colds and flu etc), chemicals an even exposure to extreme heat or cold as triggers.
“Anti-inflammatory medication, ACE inhibitors, painkillers, anaesthetics and some antibiotics are among the list of medications that could illicit an allergic response. On the other hand, it may not be the medication or food itself, but the preservative or colourant used that may induce hives. Pregnancy can also cause hives – especially in the last trimester. Living with chronic or recurring urticaria either means you are repeatedly being exposed to a trigger or it is a sign of an underlying disease, such as lupus, thyroid disorders or rheumatoid arthritis which are all likely to cause hives.”
Urticaria affects children, but is more common in young adults and tends to occur more frequently in mid-life, especially in women.
Jennings offers the following advice on how to relieve symptoms of urticaria:
- The best way to treat it is to identify and remove the trigger, but this requires the help of a specialist. It’s best to consult a GP or allergist who will assist you in this process.
- The itchiness associated with urticaria can usually be relieved with an antihistamine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for an antihistamine that won’t make you drowsy. Antihistamines work best if taken regularly to prevent hives from forming.
- More severe cases of urticaria can be treated with adrenalin injections.
Those suffering from urticaria can visit www.allergyexpert.co.za for more info.