MELBOURNE: Australian researchers say they have discovered the cause of a recurring type of hives.
One in five people experience hives in their lifetime as an allergic reaction but a small number of people suffer hives, known as chronic spontaneous uticaria, that can last for years without an apparent cause.
In a study published on Monday, a team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) found that the condition is an auto-immune disease rather than an allergic reaction.
Priscilla Auyeng, a scientist at WEHI and immunologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said in most people with uticaria immune cells were reacting to a molecule on mast cells in the skin to produce the hives.
She added that the finding had led to the beginning of a study into “switching off” the abnormal response.
“We don’t know why this disease starts, but somewhere along the line the immune system generated this response to a molecule on the mast cell,” Auyeng told Australian media on Monday.
“This is an important finding because there is still no reliable test to diagnose it.
“In the clinic, we diagnose it after excluding all other diseases and after lots of tests.
“Studies show the impact on quality of life is as significant as it is for people with heart disease. Even doctors underestimate the impact it has on patients.”
The research team is now using blood and skin samples from patients to identify the molecule on mast cells responsible for the reaction.
They believe that once identified, a cure or treatment for the hives can be developed.