Chronic urticaria is defined as the presence of urticaria (hives) for at least 6 weeks with the assumption that it occurs daily or close to it. If we eliminate physical urticarias and urticarial vasculitis from consideration, the remainder can be divided into autoimmune chronic urticaria (45%) and idiopathic chronic urticaria (55%). The autoimmune subgroup is associated with the IgG anti-IgE receptor α subunit in 35–40% of patients and IgG anti-IgE in an additional 5–10%. These autoantibodies have been shown to activate blood basophils and cutaneous mast cells in vitro with augmentation of basophil activation by complement and release of C5a, in particular. Binding methods (immunoblot and ELISA) yield positives in many autoimmune diseases as well as occasional normal subjects or patients with other forms of urticaria but most such sera are non-functional. Activation of basophils or mast cells causing histamine release is quite specific for chronic urticaria and defines the autoimmune subgroup. Although pathogenicity is not formally proven, the antibodies cause wealing upon intradermal injection, and removal of the autoantibody leads to remission. A cellular infiltrate is seen to be characterized by mast cell degranulation and infiltration of CD4+ T lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils. The intensity of the infiltrate and clinical severity of the disease (including accompanying angio-oedema) is more severe in the autoimmune subpopulation. This latter group also has a higher evidence of human leucocyte antigen DR alleles associated with autoimmunity and a 25% incidence of antithyroid antibodies with diagnosed hypothyroidism in some. Hypo-responsiveness of patients' basophils to anti-IgE and hyperresponsiveness to serum defines another subpopulation (at least 50%) that overlaps the idiopathic and autoimmune subgroups. Hypo-responsiveness to anti-IgE has been shown to be associated with elevated levels of cytoplasmic phosphatases that inhibit degranulation. Reversal of the abnormality is seen with disease remission. Further work will be needed to distinguish whether this is a cause or a consequence of persistent urticaria and to further assess the relationship (or lack thereof) of altered responsiveness (decreased or increased) with the presence or absence of activating autoantibodies.