What Is An Urticarial Rash?

Although we may not be familiar with the name, most of us have suffered from urticaria, or an urticarial rash, at one time or another. Strawberries can be a cause of urticaria in young children, although most children outgrow the problem eventually. Coming into contact with nettles can also cause an urticarial rash, something we usually don't outgrow. At other times when we get the rash, we may have no idea where it comes from. When the cause is not known, it is called an idiopathic urticaria, which for some can be a chronic condition.

The Short Answer Is Hives

What is this disorder anyway, that is so common, yet its name is unfamiliar to us? The answer to that question is hives. Most of us have experienced hives at one time or another. Maybe we've walked through some nettles, and have either broken out where we came into contact with the plants, or broken out all over. Or, we may have broken out into a rash over a good part of our body after eating a bowl of strawberries. In other words, what we've experienced is an allergic reaction, which is a common cause of hives, although not the only cause.

Sometimes, as in the case with strawberries, we simply outgrow the problem, and can enjoy the wonderful berries without any problems. There are those however, who suffer from chronic urticaria, and must either avoid certain things they are allergic to, or what is worse, suffer from bouts of chronic idiopathic urticaria, while having no idea as to the cause. Unfortunately, dermatologists and allergists sometimes have no idea either, and the best that can be done is to try to find a treatment that at least makes the condition bearable. Compounding the problem is that a treatment that gives one person relief, or clears up the disorder, may be of little or no help to the next person.

There are times, when the condition is chronic, that it can be traced to an autoimmune system disorder. If this disorder can be determined, and either cured or treated, the urticaria problem may be resolved, or its effects lessened.

Most Chronic Cases Are Rare

Although having an occasional case of the hives is fairly common, especially among young children, and are usually of minor concern, cases of chronic urticarial rash are more of a problem, but fortunately they are quite rare. Although that can be taken as good news, there is a flip side. Someone who suffers from the chronic condition will at times find it to be debilitating. One of the worst types of urticaria one can be affected with is aquagenic urticaria, a rash that occurs when coming into contact with water. Fortunately, aquagenic urticaria is very rare indeed. The only treatment is to avoid contact with water as much as possible. Obviously one has to bathe, so short baths or showers are standard procedure. Other causes of hives, a few of which are fairly common, are heat (heat rash), pressure (tight clothing), solar (sun exposure), and a reaction to sudden temperature changes.

Histamines Are Partly To Blame

The rash comes about from the release of histamines from cells in the skin. Histamines are mediators of inflammation, usually released by the immune system to fight an infection, or in response to an allergic reaction. In the case of an urticaria rash, or hives, the cause may or may not be due to an allergy, but the result is the same. Medications may bring on a rash, even though there is no allergic reaction to that particular medication.

Stress Is Another Culprit

Stress is a known contributor to the disorder. Hives, in combination with stress, can form a vicious cycle, one that can lead to periods of depression. The more troublesome the rash, the more stressful a person's ability to cope with day-to-day life may become, which only leads to more frequent episodes of rashes or hives.

Treatment And Prevention

Given what has been presented above, it's apparent that treatments for this condition can vary from the use of an antihistamine such as hydroxyzine, to stress management, to avoidance. For some of the less common types of urticaria, such as reactions to heat or cold, the only alternative may be to avoid heat or cold as much as possible, just as staying out of direct or strong sunlight can help prevent outbreaks of solar-induced urticaria. The use of a corticosteroid is often quite effective in clearing up a rash quickly, but because of certain side effects associated with corticosteroids, they should not be used frequently, or over an extended period of time.

Should you or a member of your family suddenly break out with hives or a rash, it can be helpful to you, and to your physician or dermatologist, to note what the conditions were, where you were, or what you had eaten, when the rash first appeared. It may then be possible to establish the true cause, and determine an appropriate remedy. If strawberries were the cause, the only remedy may be to wait a year or two before trying to eat them again, as painful as that may be.