Stress can do a lot of things to your body. It can increase your blood pressure and disrupt sleep. It can even give you a rash.
What Is a Stress Rash?
If you’ve ever broken out in hives after a stressful situation, you’ve had a stress rash.
Hives, also known as urticaria, can appear and disappear at random on different parts of your body. They are red, itchy, raised bumps or welts of different shapes and sizes, with defined red margins and pale centers.
You can develop hives anywhere on your body. They range from a quarter-inch in size (the width of a pencil) to 3 inches or more across. Patches of hives can be as large as a dinner plate.
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What Causes a Stress Rash?
Hives are common, affecting 20% of people at some point during their lives, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Hives often are caused by a reaction to food, medicine, an infection, insect sting, or things we breathe in or touch.
Stress is an environmental trigger for hives. Other environmental triggers include exercise, sunlight, water, vibration, and hot and cold temperatures.
Stress causes your body to release adrenalin, which may trigger hives, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD. Stress hives usually come on quickly and last from 30 to 60 minutes.
Other Ways Stress Affects Your Skin
Stress is also a trigger for several other skin conditions, according to the AAD, including:
- Psoriasis — A chronic skin condition that causes thick red or white patches of skin called plaques. People with psoriasis often experience flare-ups due to stress.
- Lichen planus — A recurrent skin disease that appears on the body or in the mouth. On the skin, it causes shiny, firm, reddish purple bumps. In the mouth, it looks like gray-white spots.
- Atopic dermatitis — Also known as eczema, it can cause itchy, small, blister-like or scaly bumps.
- Rosacea — A very common skin disease that affects people over age 30. It causes redness and flushing on the nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead.
The treatment for these skin conditions may be different than those recommended for hives. That’s why you should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis of persistent or recurring skin rashes. A doctor also can help you develop a treatment plan or refer you to a dermatologist.
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What Is the Treatment for a Stress Rash?
Hives from stress usually go away on their own. A stress rash typically lasts less than 24 hours. In most cases, you can treat a stress rash at home.
The following self-care treatments can help you get the itching and redness under control:
- Take an over-the-counter antihistamine
- Resist the urge to scratch your skin which can lead to more itching and possibly infection
- Apply a cold, wet cloth or cloth-covered ice pack to itchy skin for five to 10 minutes or until the itching stops
- Take a 10-minute lukewarm oatmeal bath to soothe skin that’s blistered and oozing
- Moisturize your skin with a product that’s labeled for sensitive skin or is free of fragrances
- Use calamine, menthol, or another topical cooling agent
- Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothes
- Tackle stress by exercising, meditating, and practicing mindfulness (if you don’t get stress under control, stress hives may continue to appear and disappear)
When Should You See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Worsening symptoms
- Shortness of breath or sudden swelling of the face, lips, or tongue which could mean you’re having a severe allergic reaction
- Hives lasting longer than six weeks
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