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Asthma Drug Takes the Itch Out of Chronic Hives

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By Kate Johnson
Medscape Medical News

Feb. 25, 2013 (San Antonio, Texas) -- The asthma drug Xolair appears to be a safe and effective treatment for chronic hives, a new study shows. 

The results of the study were presented at a news conference here at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) meeting. The results were simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Xolair is approved for allergic asthma

The study shows it lessens the symptoms of what's called chronic idiopathic urticaria. For people with the condition, hives can last for years. It's not clear what causes the hives, and often they don't get better with antihistamines, the only approved treatment for the condition.

The study involved 323 people who had hives for at least six months. They also didn't respond to eight weeks of antihistamines.

The participants "pretty much fit the profile that we see for these patients," says Thomas Casale, MD, from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. "They tend to be adults, in their 40s, majority are female, and the duration of the disease can vary. One patient had it for over 60 years."

Participants were given three monthly injections of one of three doses of Xolair or a placebo. This was followed by a 16-week observation period.

Throughout the treatment and follow-up period, patients were allowed to remain on their regular antihistamine regimen. They were also allowed to take antihistamines as needed for quick relief of symptoms.

'Amazing' Response

Casale says the rapid response to Xolair was "pretty amazing."

"In the high-dose group, for example, patients had a clear drop in their symptoms in a week. And that was apparent at two weeks for the [second-highest dose]. So it not only worked, but it worked fairly rapidly," he says.

At the end of treatment, 53% of patients receiving the high dose were completely free of hives. That compares with:

  • 23% in the mid-dose group
  • 18% in the low-dose group
  • 10% in the placebo group

The participants also relied less on antihistamines. That's important "because if you can achieve good improvement and do it with less rescue [immediate-relief] antihistamine, then you know you have an even better treatment," Casale says.

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