Just wanted to share my hives story with everyone in case it can help in some way. I'm a woman who started with chronic hives (daily rash) 11 months ago, aged 34. It coincided with me buying some new wardrobes from Ikea - I don't know if that is what started it all off, but it does seem a heck of a coincidence.
The doctors were reluctant to do anything at first, saying it would burn itself out and I should just take antihistamines. I've discovered that a dose of cetirizine hydrochloride every day keeps the rash at bay, for the most part.
The rash I could handle, but when I started to get facial swelling I realised that the drugs just weren't enough. I wanted allergy testing but was refused it as I had at that point only had the hives for a few months. So I had to become my own detective. Why was my face swelling up? I was getting massive swollen lips, as if I'd had collagen implants, and my eyes would become disfigured, looking puffy and shrunken, sometimes as if I had been beaten up. It was horribly embarrassing having to struggle into work looking and feeling so weird.
I was tearing my hair out with frustration at why my face kept swelling up, and eventually I started looking at what I'd been eating and drinking, and reading the ingredients. After a few weeks of detective work I realised that aspartame was a trigger. I'd noticed that after drinking blackcurrant cordial I'd have an attack. I had an attack when I drank some Lemsip. I read the ingredients list and to my horror aspartame was listed. It's in loads of low-fat and diet products, and it's nearly impossible to buy chewing gum that doesn't contain it.
I went to see a consultant, told him my theory and he was surprised. He disappeared to look it up in a book and came back saying yes, aspartame CAN be a trigger for urticaria. He then discharged me, saying he was satisfied it was resolving itself. He told me to do an aspartame challenge, so I had to buy the sweetener, pop it into a glass of water, drink it and see what happened.
Nothing happened straight away, which made me doubt my theory, but a few hours later I had two puffy, swollen black eyes so I knew then that aspartame was the culprit. Since then, I've been avoiding it like the plague but of course I do still get swollen lips/eyes on occasion - usually if I've been out somewhere and have taken a risk with the menu. The rash is almost 100% gone but only because I'm taking the antihistamine. It comes back if I stop. I don't want to take antihistamines for the rest of my life, but for now I suppose I have to.
I'll be going back to the doctors at some point to give them an update but I do feel that they are a bit stumped when it comes to chronic hives. Anyway, hope this hasn't been too longwinded and boring - if my story helps just one person, it's worth the effort!