Hives, those annoying itchy red bumps, often occur with an allergic reaction or sometimes a viral infection. Or sometimes, they can be more serious when they happen with a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.
Most of the time, you can find what caused them. But what if you can’t?
There is a condition called chronic idiopathic urticaria (ur-ti-KAIR-ee-uh). Simply put, it means hives that stick around for more than six weeks for no known reason. Many people call it CIU. About 1.5 million people in the U.S. have it.
What Is CIU?
Hives caused by an allergic reaction or a viral infection usually go away after a short time.
CIU is different. It can be harder to diagnose. Women are more likely to have CIU than men. Symptoms usually occur between the ages of 20 and 40. For many, the condition typically lasts 1 to 5 years.
Some signs of CIU are:
- Itchy red bumps (hives) anywhere on the body
- Hives that last longer than 6 weeks (maybe even months or years)
- Hives brought on by no known cause
- Unpredictable symptoms that come and go
- Isn’t always relieved by allergy medicines
No one really knows what causes CIU. They do know that heat, cold, alcohol, exercise, tight clothes and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (ibuprofen, aspirin) may make it worse.
CIU is not life threatening. But sudden hives can be one of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.
Go to the emergency room or call 911 if:
- Your hives are severe and cover a large area of your body
- You have other symptoms such as difficulty breathing
What Do I Do If I Think I Have CIU?
If you think you have CIU, see a board-certified allergist or dermatologist. Both types of specialists treat CIU. They will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history. They may also do allergy testing and blood tests, if necessary.
CIU is not easy to diagnose. To help your doctor decide if you have CIU, use our Hives Conversation Starter with Symptom Tracker.It has helpful questions for you to answer, along with a calendar to track your symptoms.
How Is CIU Treated?
Your doctor may try a combination of different medicines to try to relieve CIU. They may first prescribe an allergy medicine called an antihistamine.1 If that doesn’t work, there are other medicines your doctor may try until they find the ones that work for you.
Treatment may lessen your symptoms but not relieve them completely. Since CIU can be frustrating, support may help you cope as well. Support groups, such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Skin Conditions Support forum, can connect you with others with CIU. Talking to others who understand what you’re going through can be comforting.
Medical Review September 2017.
1. Godse, K. V. (2009). CHRONIC URTICARIA AND TREATMENT OPTIONS. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 54(4), 310–312. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.57603