Uncovering the cause of recurring hives

Uncovering the cause of recurring hives

Illuminate newsletter, September 2017
September 2017

Dr Priscilla Auyeung
Dr Priscilla Auyeung has discovered why some people
spontaneously develop hives with no apparent trigger.

Researchers have found why some people develop recurring, itchy hives without an apparent allergic trigger, in a condition known as chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU).

Dr Priscilla Auyeung, a clinical immunologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and clinician-scientist at the Institute, said one in five Australians would experience hives at some stage of their lives.

"Patients often think they’re allergic to their washing powder or soap."

“Sometimes it’s because of an allergy, like when a reaction is linked to contact with a particular animal or eating a certain food,” Dr Auyeung said.

“People with CSU, however, develop recurring hives for weeks – and even years – but with no apparent trigger. Patients often think they’re allergic to their washing powder or soap, and sometimes even wonder if it’s all in their mind.”

Immune cells implicated

Dr Auyeung and colleagues used samples from CSU patients attending the RMH to investigate whether the hives were caused by immune T cells.

“We found that in the majority of people with CSU, T cells reacted to a specific protein in the skin. This aberrant ‘autoimmune’ T cell response drives the inflammation that causes itchy hives in CSU,” Dr Auyeung said.

“In recent years, we’ve seen therapies developed that switch off the damaging immune response underlying other immune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes.

"We’re hoping to use the same techniques to bring relief to people with CSU.”

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