Photo of man on a couch. He is using one hand to scratch the other. He may have chronic idiopathic urticaria

It’s estimated that 20 percent of people in the United States will develop hives – an itchy rash accompanied by raised, red welts or spots – at some point in their lives.

Hives, also called urticaria, become chronic when symptoms come and go for more than 6 weeks. And when you and your doctor are unable to identify the cause of symptoms, it’s called chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) – affecting 0.5 percent of the population, or approximately 1.6 million people.

A recent study reveals chronic urticaria and CIU substantially impact patients’ quality of life, even when they are taking prescription medication for the condition.

The study, published on the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website, pointed to swelling, itching, sleep disturbances, stress and emotional difficulties including anxiety and depression as contributing to a lower quality of life in patients.

Chronic urticaria and CIU affected patients’ personal care, productivity at work, family life and housekeeping, researchers said. In addition, patients made more frequent trips to doctor offices, going as often as 12 times more per year than those without chronic urticaria and CIU. They also had more emergency department visits and hospitalizations, according to the study.

The researchers recommend patients and healthcare professionals work together to find the most appropriate treatment to control symptoms and improve well-being. They also suggest new prescription medications are needed beyond the current standard of care.

Read more on CIU and treatment options in a Q&A interview with David Khan, MD, board-certified allergist and professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Notes from the study:

  • Chronic hives are most common among adults 45-54 years old and least common among young adults 18-24.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with CIU.
  • Research from insurance claims indicates most patients use nonsedating antihistamines and oral corticosteroids to treat CIU.
  • The study was conducted by Kantar Health, with funding by Novartis and Genentech.