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Researchers Find Cause of Recurring Urticaria

Melbourne researchers have found the cause of a type of recurring urticaria that previously had no obvious trigger.

One fifth of people will experience urticaria, which is commonly known as hives. The condition causes itchy red rashes and raised lumps on the skin and is usually triggered by a reaction to food, medicine or irritants. However, some people suffer from the condition for months or years with no apparent cause. This is known as chronic spontaneous urticaria.

Now, researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have found that this type of urticaria is not an allergy but an auto-immune disease. They found that in most people with the condition, the body’s immune cells (T cells) react to a molecule on immune cells in the skin (mast cells) and produce inflammation which manifests as hives.

The researchers said that the findings – which were published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology – have prompted them to begin a study aimed at switching off the abnormal immune response, thereby relieving the symptoms of the skin condition. They said the finding is important because there is still no reliable test to diagnose chronic spontaneous urticaria, and it is currently diagnosed after excluding all other diseases and conducting a multitude of tests.

Previous studies have shown that urticaria’s impact on quality of life is comparable to heart disease, and that people often underestimate the condition’s effect on patients.

Researchers are now working to develop treatments that switch off the damaging immune response in type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease and peanut allergies. They are using blood and skin samples from patients to locate the specific molecule on the mast cell involved – an important step in developing a treatment or cure.

Click here to read more research on chronic skin conditions.


O’Connell, B. (July 2, 2017.) Researchers uncover process behind chronic spontaneous urticaria hives. Herald Sun.

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