Carol Burnett's "Mama" Opens Up About Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria

DECEMBER 08, 2016
Ryan Black
Vicki Lawrence is best known as the voice behind “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” a constant comedic presence on the beloved The Carol Burnett Show, or to the very youngest as Miley Cyrus’s TV grandmother on Hannah Montana.
She’s gained a new identity: the actress who talks about her hives.
Lawrence has become an advocate for people with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU)—speaking on a website sponsored by Novartis and Genentech.
Becoming a celebrity spokesperson for a medical condition was likely not something she envisioned. Lawrence came down with CIU suddenly. After first breaking out with hives about six years ago, she said in a Fox News Radio interview last month, Lawrence said her doctor first treated them like any allergic skin breakout. After six weeks with no improvement from typical treatments, however, Lawrence’s allergist finally diagnosed the condition as CIU.
Lawrence’s interview gives insight into the mindset of a person facing a skin condition, particularly one that provides constant reminders of its itchy presence and little or no solace of knowing its origins.
 “The hardest thing is, that as a patient, you want to blame yourself. I had everybody in the world telling me ‘You’ve got to get on an elimination diet’ or ‘You’ve got to stop drinking wine because it’s all the tannins in the red wine…’”
She speaks of trying fragrance-free laundry detergents and changing sheets, sure that it was a self-inflicted exposure that was causing her breakouts. She recalls her doctor telling her “’We basically know the things you’re allergic to, you can scratch-test all you want, I don’t think you’re ever going to find an answer for why this is happening to you,’” reiterating the need to see an allergist or dermatologist for proper diagnosis.

Lawrence made her diagnosis first known last year, partnering with the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA) to launch the sponsored, a web resource designed to educate those who suspect they may have the disease in seeking proper diagnosis and treatment.
CIU is estimated to impact as many as 1.5 million Americans, while its exact prevalence may be difficult to quantify due to its very nature. Treatment and coping suggestions range from simply wearing looser clothing and avoiding allergens to antihistamines and even corticosteroids, according to the Mayo Clinic. Corticosteroids carry their own known risks of weakened immune system and potential toxicity.
Omalizumab (Xolair/Genentech and Novartis), originally approved for asthma treatment in 2003, was later approved by the FDA for the treatment of skin conditions including CIU in 2014.
Lawrence’s interview with Tonya J. Powers of Fox News Radio was posted online on November 21st.
Related Coverage:
Corticosteroids Pose Toxicity Risk for Patients with Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria
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