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Chronic Itching, Hives can be Treated with Asthma Drug

Update Date: Feb 25, 2013 03:17 AM EST
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A drug that's injected once a month to treat asthma can also be an effective remedy for hard-to-treat hives and itches, says a new study.

The study included 323 people who weren't reacting to standard antihistamine therapy for allergic reaction, called chronic idiopathic urticaria or chronic spontaneous urticaria.

Urticaria or hives are raised, itchy red welts on the surface of the skin, according to Pubmed Health. These hives are an allergic reaction to food, medicine and sometimes, emotional stress. Urticaria is considered "chronic" when the symptoms don't subside even after 6 weeks of treatment.

Participants in the study were aged between 12 and 75. Each of them was given three doses of either asthma drug omalizumab, or a placebo.

Study results showed that after three months, 53 percent taking higher doses (300mg) of the drug had a total elimination of all hives and some 44 percent had no future incident of hives. At lower doses of 150 mg or 75 mg, the drug had lesser impact on hives.

"Physicians and patients may now have a fast, safe and well-tolerated treatment option to consider before prescribing even more antihistamines, which can be highly sedating," says Sarbjit (Romi) Saini, M.D., a Johns Hopkins allergist and immunologist, and study co-investigator.

Researchers will now be examining the underlying mechanism by which the drug relieves symptoms of hives in people.

The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Saini added that the study not only shows that the drug is effective against hives, but also shows that the drug is safer than other medications like corticosteroids and the immunosuppressant cyclosporine that can cause severe side-effects which include blood pressure, infection, bone thinning, etc.

In the present study, headache was the only severe side-effect reported by the patients. Also, none of the patients discontinued the study due to any adverse reaction. There were even no cases of anaphylactic shock or death.

"Patients suffering with this condition need more and better treatment options because chronic hives and rash are profoundly hard to treat and can be very debilitating," said Saini, who is also an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Saini has studied omalizumab since 2005, according to a news release.

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