According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) is characterized by hives that last for more than six weeks with no identifiable cause. When Vicki Lawrence, American actress known for her roles in The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family and Hannah Montana, was diagnosed with the little-known skin condition, she knew she had to start working to raise awareness.
Today, Vicki serves as the spokesperson of CIU & You, an educational campaign for which she gives talks around the country about her experience with CIU and works to educate Americans on its effects.
NewBeauty: How did you first realize you had CIU?
Vicki Lawrence: Seven years ago, I was walking my dogs, when suddenly a hive appeared on the palm of my hand. By the time I got home, the hives had multiplied. The welts kept coming and they started to merge. They looked like continents.
I tried to figure out what was causing the hives with no success. I started avoiding things that I thought were causing the hives: I stopped drinking red wine, I changed soap and I submerged my hands in bowls of ice water. My allergist tested me for everything. I was seeking answers and relief and not getting any. After more than six weeks of trial and error, my allergist diagnosed me with CIU.
NB: What do you think most people do not know about this condition?
VL: When most people get hives, they believe they’ve done something wrong—I certainly did! They start avoiding things they think may cause the hives, but with CIU there is no identifiable cause.
Tracking your symptoms can also be helpful when discussing the hives with the help of the right doctor. The CIU & You program has a website that provides downloadable tools for tracking and recording symptoms so that people can have a productive conversation with their specialist. I encourage people to take pictures of their hives, because they may change from day to day, or may not be visible on the day of the appointment.
NB: What are some challenges you face day to day with CIU?
VL: Fortunately, I haven’t had a hives outbreak in a while, though with CIU, the hives can come back anytime. When I had hives, I couldn’t stop itching. I tried everything. I would stand in the coldest showeruntil my body was numb and I was shaking, all to make the itching stop. Then I’d rub menthol all over myself and sit on my bed shivering, “mentholating” and hoping that when it stopped the hives would be gone. They weren’t. I actually convinced myself at some point that warm water was triggering the hives.
NB: Why are you hoping to spread more awareness on the subject?
VL: Oftentimes, people with CIU feel alone in their search for answers. I want people to realize they are not alone and that CIU is a real health condition. The search for the CIU diagnosis can be a very frustrating process. I hope the CIU & You program inspires other people to not give up and talk to a specialist to get the support they need to help manage their CIU.
It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have CIU. Women are twice as likely as men to experience CIU and most people develop symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40 years. For every 10 people whose hives are chronic, at least seven of them have CIU.