, Volume 33, Issue 1-2, pp 134-143

Chronic Urticaria: Recent Advances

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Abstract

Chronic urticaria is an umbrella term, which encompasses physical urticarias, chronic “idiopathic” urticaria and urticarial vasculitis. It is important to recognize patients with physical urticarias as the investigation and treatment differs in important ways from patients with idiopathic chronic urticaria or urticarial vasculitis. Although relatively uncommon, urticarial vasculitis is an important diagnosis to make and requires histological confirmation by biopsy. Underlying systemic disease and systemic involvement, especially of the kidneys, should be sought. It is now recognized that chronic “idiopathic” urticaria includes a subset with an autoimmune basis caused by circulating autoantibodies against the high affinity IgE receptor (FceR1) and less commonly against IgE. Although the autologous serum skin test has been proven useful in prompting search for and characterization of circulating wheal-producing factors in chronic urticaria, its specificity as a screening test for presence of functional anti-FceR1 is low, and confirmation by demonstration of histamine-releasing activity in the patient’s serum must be the benchmark test in establishing this diagnosis. Improved screening tests are being sought; for example, ability of the chronic urticaria patient’s serum to evoke expression of CD 203c on donor human basophils is showing some promise. The strong association between autoimmune thyroid disease and autoimmune urticaria is also an area of ongoing research. Drug treatment continues to be centered on the H1 antihistamines, and the newer second-generation compounds appear to be safe and effective even in off-label dosage. Use of systemic steroids should be confined to special circumstances such as tapering regimens for acute flare-ups. Use of leukotriene antagonists is becoming popular, but the evidence for efficacy is conflicting. Cyclosporin is also effective and can be used in selected cases of autoimmune urticaria, and it is also effective in non-autoimmune cases, although less so.