The itching began on Vicki Lawrence’s stomach while she was out walking her dogs. By the time she got home, it had spread to her back, buttocks and thighs. “I had huge red welts everywhere,” she recalls to Closer.

For the next six weeks, the performer, best known for her roles on Mama’s Family and The Carol Burnett Show, underwent a battery of allergy tests. To stop her discomfort, she endured icy showers and slathered herself in menthol and camphor lotions. “I was very frustrated,” she admits. “It’s a very isolating condition because nobody can relate. When you tell people you have hives, they’re like, ‘Well, put on some lotion and come to the party.’”

Vicki, 71, admits it would have been even harder to endure without her husband, Al Schultz, 78, the father of her children Courtney, 45, and Garrett, 43. “He was such a strong support system,” she says of Al, a makeup artist whom she met on the set of The Carol Burnett Show. When “you marry your very best friend,” she says, “you always have someone to laugh with.”

After weeks of testing found no external cause for Vicki’s itching, she was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU). There is no cure for CIU, but the condition can be managed.

Vicki Lawrence 'The Carol Burnett Show'

“I haven’t actually seen a hive now in a good number of years,” says the star, who is working with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to get the word out to the 1.6 million Americans who suffer from chronic hives that there can be relief.

“It’s important to find a good allergist who is familiar with CIU and figure out how to manage the symptoms,” says Vicki. Events like October 1’s World Urticaria Day have also helped lessen the stigma of chronic skin conditions. “ is a really good website,” Vicki says. “It has a lot of good information for people.”

Reporting by Katie Bruno

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