Indian Journal of Dermatology
  Publication of IADVL, WB
  Official organ of AADV
Indexed with Science Citation Index (E) , Web of Science and PubMed
Users online: 1932  
Home About  Editorial Board  Current Issue Archives Online Early Coming Soon Guidelines Subscriptions  e-Alerts    Login  
    Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size Print this page Email this page

Table of Contents 
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 58  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 208-210
Classification of urticaria

Allergie -Centrum -Charite, Charite University, Berlin, Germany

Date of Web Publication20-Apr-2013

Correspondence Address:
Torsten Zuberbier
Allergie-Centrum-Charite, Klinik für Dermatologie, Venerologie und Allergologie Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5154.110830

Rights and Permissions


Classification is based on GA 2 LEN/EAACI/WAO/EDF guidelines (2009). These guidelines classify urticaria according to clinical manifestations. Urticaria is mediated by mast cells. According to level of mast cell degranulation clinical signs are superficial (Urticaria) or deep swelling (Angioedema).

Keywords: Spontaneous urticaria, Physical urticaria, Angioedema

How to cite this article:
Zuberbier T. Classification of urticaria . Indian J Dermatol 2013;58:208-10

How to cite this URL:
Zuberbier T. Classification of urticaria . Indian J Dermatol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2019 Aug 21];58:208-10. Available from:

   Introduction Top

This chapter is based on the latest GA2LEN/EAACI/WAO/EDF guidelines (2009), which classify urticaria based on clinical symptoms, duration, and frequency. Because of the overlap between the underlying mechanisms of the different subtypes of urticaria, a classification based on the underlying mechanisms - which was attempted earlier - is less useful.

Urticaria has been described as a medical entity since antiquity. However, only in the last century was there a better understanding of the different subtypes showing the high heterogeneity the disease. Misnomers such as urticaria pigmentosa, which in fact is a cutaneous manifestation of mastocytosis, were revealed. Similar to urticarial vasculitis, these diseases due to historical reasons are still often addressed in urticaria book chapters, but in this case the wheal-like symptoms are not true wheals since they last longer and are not histamine-mediated but based on the true vasculitis occurring in superficial cutaneous vessels.

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that the symptom of urticaria - the wheal - can also occur under other circumstances as a kind of bystander effect, such as in acute anaphylaxis or in association with syndromes such as Muckle-Wells syndrome.

Thus, in conclusion, an important aspect in the guideline work was first of all to have clear-cut definitions of the disease and its symptoms, always remembering that overlap is possible in the classical medical nomenclature. This also holds true for the term angioedema, which can be histamine-induced, associated with urticaria, or even the sole manifestation of urticaria, but can also occur due to bradykinin formation, for example, in hereditary angioedema or in other, unrelated dermatological diseases, as a symptom, such as in cheilitis granulomatosa.

Urticaria is a disease characterized by the appearance of wheals and/or angioedema, encompassing several subtypes. Diagnosis and treatment vary according to the subtype, so classification is important. The symptoms of urticaria (wheals and/or angioedema) can also occur in other conditions or diseases, for example, anaphylaxis.

Wheals are itchy or burning swellings, variable in size, often surrounded by reflex erythema, and of a fleeting nature, lasting anywhere from 1-24 h before disappearing.

Angioedema is defined as sudden, pronounced swelling of the lower dermis and sub-cutis, sometimes painful rather than itchy, and taking up to 72 h to resolve. Angioedema frequently involves the mucous membranes. [1]

   Classification of Urticaria Top

Old systems of classification in urticaria were often driven by pathophysiology, for example, classifying urticaria in allergic urticaria, urticaria due to infectious agents, or autoimmune urticaria. With a better understanding of the pathophysiology, this is no longer useful, since there is a high overlap between the different forms in the underlying pathophysiology. For example, allergic urticaria can occur in acute and chronic urticaria forms, and contact urticaria, just to name some, and the same holds true for the term "automimmune urticaria," which was originally devised when high-affinity IgE-receptor antibodies were discovered in chronic urticaria (Hide et al.). [2] With progress and knowledge it now becomes apparent that also other subtypes, for example, in cholinergic urticaria, autoimmune phenomena appear to be playing a role. Based on these considerations, the current guidelines classified urticaria based on the clinical manifestation, which makes it much easier for the practicing doctor to better diagnose the patients. In this classification, of course, there are also sometimes points that need to be discussed for better understanding. Thus the term chronic urticaria is strictly reserved for spontaneous appearance of wheals (to better show this, the term chronic spontaneous urticaria was introduced), but this does not mean that the physical subtypes of urticaria are not chronic; in these cases, symptoms are not chronic but only visible when physical stimuli are present. [3]

[Table 1] summarizes the classification. Note that the clinical manifestations of urticaria are broad and patients may exhibit two or more subtypes at one time.
Table 1: Urticaria subtypes-classification

Click here to view

Some conditions formerly classified as urticaria are no longer considered to be subtypes of urticaria. These include urticaria pigmentosa (cutaneous mastocytosis), urticarial vasculitis, familial cold urticaria, and non-histaminergic angioedema (hereditary or acquired angioedema). Some subtypes of urticaria appear in conjunction with other syndromes such as Muckle-Wells [Table 2].
Table 2: Diseases related to urticaria for historical reasons and syndromes, including urticaria and/or angioedema

Click here to view

In order to properly classify urticaria, the following factors must be taken into consideration (see [Figure 1] for a flow chart on differential diagnosis):
Figure 1: Differential diagnosis.[4] (Modified from: Zuberbier T, Bindslev - Jensen C, Canonica W, Grattan CE, Greaves MW, Henz BM, et al. EAACI/GA2LEN/ EDF guideline: Definition, classification and diagnosis of urticaria. Allergy 2006;61:316-20.)

Click here to view

  1. Are there physical triggers or other external factors? If so, measure the intensity of the eliciting factor, for example, how long does pressure need to be applied, and how much, in pressure urticaria; or temperature and time of exposure in cold urticaria.
  2. For non-physical urticarias, guidelines suggest a unified scoring system from 0 (no wheals) to 3 (intense, many wheals, longer than 24 h).
  3. Ask patients to record their symptoms and self-evaluate according to the scoring system. Self-evaluation is important since intensity fluctuates over the course of 24 h. Self-evaluation can be supported by a periodic or one-time medical examination to ensure objectivity in the self-scoring.

   General Issues Top

Wheal size sometimes indicates the severity of the disease: larger wheals means the urticaria is more severe and harder to treat. Wheal color may also help in diagnosis, as lighter colored wheals with a pink erythema indicate the involvement of histamine; pink erythema is the result of dilatation of cutaneous vessels. Dark red or violaceous wheals are associated with vascular damage and leakage, perhaps indicating urticaria vasculitis.

Last but not the least, it is also important to monitor disease intensity and appearance of wheals during the course of treatment. Very often, pre- and post-treatment comparison may also reveal the factors indicating the underlying course. Ideally, this evaluation should be accompanied by evaluation of the quality of life for which specialized instruments have been devised for urticaria (Baiardini). [1][4]

   References Top

1.Baiardini I, Giardini A, Pasquali M, Dignetti P, Guerra L, Specchia C, et al. Quality of life and patients' satisfaction in chronic urticaria and respiratory allergy. Allergy 2003;58:621-3.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Hide M, Francis DM, Grattan CE, Hakimi J, Kochan JP, Greaves MW. Autoantibodies against the high-affinity IgE receptor as a cause of histamine release in chronic urticaria. N Engl J Med 1993;328:1599-604.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Zuberbier T, Asero R, Bindslev-Jensen C, Walter Canonica G, Church MK, Giménez-Arnau A, et al. EAACI/GA (2) LEN/EDF/WAO guideline: Definition, classification and diagnosis of urticaria. Allergy 2009;64:1417-26.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Zuberbier T, Bindslev-Jensen C, Canonica W, Grattan CE, Greaves MW, Henz BM, et al. EAACI/GA2LEN/EDF guideline: Definition, classification and diagnosis of urticaria. Allergy 2006;61:316-20.  Back to cited text no. 4


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


Print this article  Email this article
    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Article in PDF (560 KB)
    Citation Manager
    Access Statistics
    Reader Comments
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

    Classification o...
   General Issues
    Article Figures
    Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded349    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal