Background: H(1)-antihistamines are first line treatment of chronic urticaria, but many patients do not get satisfactory relief with recommended doses. European guidelines recommend increased antihistamine doses of up to 4-fold.
Objective: To provide supportive evidence for the European guidelines.
Methods: Eighty tertiary referral patients with chronic urticaria (age range, 19-67 years) were randomized for double-blind treatment with levocetirizine or desloratadine (40/40). Treatment started at the conventional daily dose of 5 mg and then increased weekly to 10 mg, 20 mg, or 20 mg of the opposite drug if relief of symptoms was incomplete. Wheal and pruritus scores, quality of life, patient discomfort, somnolence, and safety were assessed.
Results: Thirteen patients became symptom-free at 5 mg (9 levocetirizine vs 4 desloratadine), compared with 28 subjects on the higher doses of 10 mg (8/7) and 20 mg (5/1). Of the 28 patients nonresponsive to 20 mg desloratadine, 7 became symptom-free with 20 mg levocetirizine. None of the 18 levocetirizine nonresponders benefited with 20 mg desloratadine. Increasing antihistamine doses improved quality of life but did not increase somnolence. Analysis of the effect of treatment on discomfort caused by urticaria showed great individual heterogeneity of antihistamine responsiveness: approximately 15% of patients were good responders, approximately 10% were nonresponders, and approximately 75% were responders to higher than conventional antihistamine doses. No serious or severe adverse effects warranting discontinuation of treatment occurred with either drug.
Conclusion: Increasing the dosage of levocetirizine and desloratadine up to 4-fold improves chronic urticaria symptoms without compromising safety in approximately three quarters of patients with difficult-to-treat chronic urticaria.