- Stress is one potential cause of the itchy skin condition called hives.
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- Stress can cause hives, or a stress rash.
- While allergies are the main cause of hives, some research has found that stress can also trigger this skin condition where the body releases histamines.
- If you think stress is causing your hives, you can take antihistamine medication like benadryl, get better sleep, exercise regularly, and work on other ways to relax your stress.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
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When your body has an allergic reaction, it releases chemicals that can make your skin swell, causing those itchy, red bumps on your skin that’s characteristic of hives.
While certain foods and allergens tend to cause hives, there’s another factor that can cause them as well – stress.
Yes, stress can cause hives
Under high stress situations, you may develop a stress rash. These hives can appear anywhere on the body, and anyone can get them, though they tend to appear most often in women and people aged 30 to 50 years old, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Stress-induced hives often look like bug bites or allergy-induced hives, but some forms can have a halo-like look to them, says Sharon Bergquist, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.
Bergquist says allergies are perhaps the biggest trigger of hives, which happens when your body releases histamines. Histamines cause the body to leak plasma – the clear or yellowish liquid that carries your blood cells throughout the body – into the skin.
Hives can also occur as a result of certain chemicals in food, bug bites, medication side effects, and exposure to sunlight. However, Bergquist notes that it’s often difficult to find the exact reason why someone breaks out in hives.
“There are a lot of times where we can’t even figure out what causes hives,” Bergquist says. “There’s a chronic form of hives that is very difficult to actually manage because in the majority of cases we never actually figure out the cause.”
However, a 2008 study found that stressful short-term situations may lead to an acute form of hives, and financial, personal, or professional stress can all worsen someone’s hives. While both short-term and long-term stressors can cause hives, Bergquist says that longer-lasting stress may lead to a longer-lasting skin condition.
Stress can not only cause hives but also worsen other skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis.
What to do if you have a stress rash
The first step in treating a stress rash is to make the association between your stress and the rash itself, Bergquist says.
“Sometimes we don’t always make the connection between emotional stress and physical manifestation. And hives can be a way that we’re internalizing stress,” she says.
While a hive will typically go away in 24 hours, they can often reappear if you’re still in a high-stress state. If you think your hives are caused by stress, here’s what you can do to help get rid of them:
- Take medication. Bergquist says that over-the-counter antihistamines like benadryl can help the immediate effects of stress hives, such as reducing the number of hives and their itchiness. That’s because antihistamines block your body’s production of histamines, and resolve symptoms related to hives or allergies.
- Get better sleep. Adults who don’t get enough sleep are 21% more likely to report feeling stressed, according to the American Psychological Foundation. Cortisol, a stress hormone, can cause skin conditions to worsen, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- Exercise regularly. Harvard Medical School states that exercises like running can reduce adrenaline and cortisol, and release endorphins, which boosts mood. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- Don’t stress the hives. “This is gonna sound circular, but getting stressed over the hives will make the hives worse,” Bergquist says. She notes that it’s easier said than done, but it’s important to not stress about the hives, treat the symptoms, and keep your self-esteem despite the skin condition.