You may often find yourself frustrated by the fact that doctors can’t identify an underlying cause for your chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU). CIU can last for months or even years, punctuated by outbreaks of itchy and painful welts or hives.

To identify the best way of treating your symptoms, you may want to consider keeping a symptom journal. By continuously tracking the circumstances surrounding your flare-ups, you can gain a better understanding of how to keep your CIU symptoms under control.

Here are the benefits of using a symptom journal when you have CIU and some tips to get started.

A diagnosis of CIU implies that there’s no known cause. “Idiopathic” means that a disease occurs spontaneously or with an unknown origin. Still, it’s possible to identify certain triggers.

A trigger is anything that aggravates your hives, causing them to increase in number or severity. Common triggers to look for include:

  • being in contact with pets or pet dander
  • direct sun exposure
  • insect bites
  • stress and anxiety
  • extreme heat or cold
  • viral infections
  • vigorous exercise

Use your journal to make note of whether you’ve encountered any of these triggers before an outbreak. Doing so can help you avoid them in the future and reduce your CIU symptoms.

Even if a medication improves your symptoms, it may not get rid of them entirely. That’s why it’s important to use a symptom journal to keep track of the number and severity of outbreaks you experience after taking your medication.

Instead of relying on your memory, you’ll be able to determine whether your medication is truly having an effect.

A symptom journal can help you track potential side effects of your medication. Potential side effects of antihistamines, for example, may include:

  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • drowsiness

Check the information that came with your treatment to learn about other side effects that are specific to that medication. If you experience severe side effects, consult your doctor to discuss alternative options.

Even if you don’t officially have any allergies, you may find that your diet plays a role in your flare-ups. Tracking what you’ve eaten can help you learn more about possible links between what you eat and when your symptoms manifest.

Some people with CIU may consider specialty diets, such as an antihistamine diet or a pseudoallergen elimination diet. In this case, including details about your food intake in your journal will be especially critical to figure out what works for you.

It can be easy to forget details about what your symptoms have been like recently when speaking with your doctor. Instead of feeling stumped when your doctor asks you questions about your CIU, bring your journal with you to your appointments.

Having a record of your symptom history will help your doctor determine the best course of action to take. It’ll also help your doctor decide whether they need to change or adjust your medications.

If you’re interested in keeping a symptom journal but don’t know where to start, consider tracking the following information in each entry:

  • foods you’ve eaten
  • potential triggers that you’ve been exposed to
  • medications you’ve taken
  • number of hives
  • severity of hives

If you prefer to track your symptoms digitally, you can use technology to help you stay organized. You can use anything from a Word document to a specialized app such as Flaredown, which is free. Experiment with different modes or apps to see what works best for you.

Your doctor ultimately decides on the best course of treatment for you. But a symptom journal can help you gain control and make sure your doctor’s decision is based on complete and accurate information. Remember to see your doctor regularly to discuss your findings and adjust your approach if necessary.