Everything You Need to Know About Stress Hives and Rashes

Stress is a part of our daily lives, and almost everyone, even a school child, faces stress at some stage in their lives. However, different people react differently to stress. The reaction can be emotional or physical. Emotional symptoms include anxiety, anger, depression, and sadness. However, one of the most common physical symptoms due to stress is the development of a type of skin rash, also known as stress hives or stress rashes.

According to research, about 20% of people experience chronic stress hives and other inflammatory skin disorders due to stress, leading to even more frustration and anger. 

This article is entirely based on authentic research with references. Below is an in-depth knowledge regarding rashes and hives and what remedies can help you treat them when triggered by stress. 

Before we begin, let’s find out – does emotional stress really causes chronic hives, or could it be due to other allergic reactions such as a food allergy or allergy asthma?

Can Stress Cause Hives or Skin Rashes?

Usually, the release of strong chemicals such as histamine causes the rashes on the skin. Histamine is released primarily in response to various allergies or body conditions in our daily life. It could also be a condition of idiopathic urticaria (CIU), or chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), which means you have hives that seem to have no direct cause and such hives usually last for 6 weeks or more.

One percent or less of people have CIU, or CSU. Usually, they are between the ages of 20 and 40, and they generally encounter a single outbreak that lasts no more than 24 hours, after which, new hives appear.

CIU is not an allergy and is not contagious, but medical professionals are not sure of what causes the condition though they suspect the immune system could play a part. Although doctors are not sure what causes CIU, they know that it can be triggered by a combination of factors, such as food allergens, environmental irritants such as animal furs, pollen, irritating chemicals such as laundry detergents, or a response to chronic infection diseases such as bacterial infections, fungal infections, viral infections, parasitic infections, insect bites and stings.  

Though the above factors often lead to the release of chemical histamine, its production is also triggered when the body is under severe stress, resulting in the activation of the immune system. 

The immune response system then signals the brain to release strong chemicals to relax the body, and one of these strong chemicals is histamine, which leads to itching, inflammation and common skin conditions such as rashes or chronic hives. So it is not wrong to say that high stress levels can cause skin rashes, and such rashes or skin inflammation are known as stress hives because they occur in response to stress. 

Stress hives or rashes can affect people of any age, but various studies have proven that women are more susceptible to this skin condition than men.  

stress hives
Stress Hives and Rashes

What Causes Stress Hives and How To Treat It?

As mentioned earlier, stress rashes or stress hives occur in response to severe stress as the body begins to undergo the release of histamine. Although stress response can be many kinds, such as leading to many neurological conditions, inflammation, irritation, and rashes on the skin are the most common physical stress-related symptoms. 

These rashes don’t last forever. Most patients have to live with them for between 1 to 5 years. They are also not contagious and can be treated with simple home remedies. However, sometimes severe conditions can occur where medical attention becomes necessary. There is also no known permanent cure for such chronic hives, but medicine and changes in your lifestyle can help you manage the condition better.

Below are some proven home remedies to treat these hives:

Home Remedies

  • Apply a cold compress to each affected area one by one. Cool compresses refer to some ice cubes in a sealable plastic bag, a frozen towel, sponge, an ice pack or a damp cloth. All of them can be used to relieve the itching and pain. 
  • An oatmeal cool bath can also help soothe the itching. Using hot water for bathing will tend to aggravate the condition. 
  • Loose, light clothing or avoiding extreme weather and high temperatures can also help in rash relief. Stay in cold temperature as much as possible.

Medication

If home remedies do not work and the hives get worse, you can also take antihistamines, such as: 

  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)

These over-the-counter antihistamines help block the effects of histamine and are available over the counter at any pharmacy. However, please keep in mind that these anti-inflammatory medications can sometimes make you sleepy and tired. Therefore, it is better to take the medicines under a doctor’s supervision. 

When simple home remedies fail, it may be useful to consult a medical professional to be put on medication and/or combine it with other therapeutic options for a more effective treatment, as research have shown that this would produce better results. For example, skin conditions such as acute hives or allergic hives that are caused by deterioration in mental health, mental processes or mental disorders such as a major depression have been proven to respond quite well to techniques such as hypnosis, meditation, or progressive relaxation that help to relieve stress. 

Alternative Methods or Therapies to Manage Your Stress

Managing your stress levels can also help you reduce your stress hives. You can manage your stress by following these tips: 

  • Practice deep breathing exercises and meditation.
  • Release your stress by talking to someone you trust about what you are going through.
  • Yoga, tai chi, or walking can also help you relieve stress. 
  • Going for a deep massage or tuina to soften and relax your muscles.
  • Taking a short break from stressful tasks can also help relieve stress. 
  • Playing stress-relief games
  • Listening to calm voices, sounds, and music.
  • Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – if needed, you can also try CBT, a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps you identify and change disturbing thought patterns that could have a negative impact on your behavior and emotions. 

Usually these rashes will go away within a few days. However, if it persists for longer than six weeks, please consult a medical doctor, or book an appointment at a dermatology clinic for medical assistance.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause You to Break Out In Hives?

Emotional stress and anxiety can lead to a hormonal and chemical imbalance in the body, a common cause of hives outbreaks. This chemical and hormonal imbalance causes blood vessels to expand and leak, resulting in red and swollen patches on the skin. 

The swollen patches cause discomfort and itching and worsen when scratched. In some cases, it feels like a tingling or burning sensation when touched.

Stress hives or rashes worsen when a person is already suffering from other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, and cold sores. 

However, symptoms can vary depending on the skin condition. For example, if someone already has eczema, they may suffer from extremely itchy skin and dryness when stressed. Similarly, cold sores become more red and itchy when under severe stress. 

Are Skin Hives and Rashes Different?

Some people consider hives and rashes to be one and the same, but the two are different. Skin rashes can take many forms, from tiny bumps to skin discoloration to blisters. On the other hand, hives are a type of skin rash and appear as small swollen bumps or patches on the skin. 

Hives can occur anywhere on the body, such as the face, tongue, lips, throat, or ears. The onset of hives occurs when the body releases a chemical called histamine in response to stress or an allergen. Moreover, hives have distinct edges, and the affected area on the skin is smooth and raised, indicating that the affected area is filled with fluid.

Skin rashes most commonly occur on exposed areas such as the hands, neck, stomach, and back and may vary in extent and size. It occurs in response to an infection or autoimmune disorder (psoriasis), and depending on the type and cause of the rash, medical treatments may be considered. 

What Does a Stress Hive or Rash Look Like?

As mentioned earlier, stress hives occur as a result of histamine release. They appear as red, swollen bumps referred to as wheals. However, the redness is not visible on darker skin.

The wheals can be between 1 and 2 centimeters in size – but they can also look larger if two or more wheals appear together. The shape of stress hives varies from oval to round or ring, but sometimes they appear in irregular forms. 

The swollen bumps and spots are very itchy. Sometimes these welts disappear within a few hours, while new hives replace them. 

How Long Do Stress Hives and Skin Rashes Usually Last?

Stress-induced hives, rashes, or welts usually disappear within a few days, but in some cases, they may reappear after some time, lasting for weeks and months. However, if they do not disappear completely within six weeks, it is called chronic urticaria that must be treated immediately by a doctor. 

In this condition, the inflammation penetrates into deeper layers of the skin, which causes the hives to recur at precise intervals. This condition is severe and is characterized by the following symptoms. 

  • Swelling of body parts such as lips, eyes, tongue, and cheeks 
  • You feel short of breath 
  • Breathing becomes difficult
  • You feel sleepy and dizzy
  • Wheezing (when breathing sounds like a whistling noise)

If you suffer from these symptoms due to stress hives, you need to rush to the hospital immediately and seek medical help. 

Conclusion

Managing stress, even over small things, has become a part of our daily lives and that can leave us feeling uncomfortable, which can trigger neurological or physical conditions, or eventually even lead to psychiatric disorders. However, one of the physical discomforts of severe stress is the outbreak of hives on the skin of patients, or an itchy rash that appears on different spots all over your body, known as stress hives. 

Stress hives are caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance or by the release of a powerful chemical, histamine, which causes skin inflammation. In this condition, the blood vessels dilate and leak, resulting in an accumulation of fluid/blood in various areas of the skin. This accumulation forms a round and smooth bump with a distinct border known as wheals. 

Moreover, these hives can also form in response to allergens or other skin conditions. Hives can be very itchy and uncomfortable, but fortunately, home remedies such as cold pressing, meditation, walking, and soft clothing can help relieve the symptoms. 

If home remedies don’t work, you can also take antihistamines to block the histamine action. Stress management can also help relieve symptoms, but if the condition persists, you may need to see a doctor immediately.

Good management of such anxiety hives and rashes will tremendously improve your quality of life, so it makes sense for you to explore a combination of medication options together with natural, therapeutic solutions. Consult a mental health professional or your family medicine physician if you have to and susceptible individuals, such as depression-prone individuals or individuals with other medical conditions should also look for a close friend or family member to talk to, as having someone to confide in will help relieve anxiety and you could also get a second opinion about treatment options. 

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