Can Sudden or Intense Stress Cause Hives?

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Can Sudden or Intense Stress Cause Hives?

Chances are that you or someone you know will experience hives. About 20% of people develop these itchy skin patches that eventually become swollen welts. If you’re prone to hives, understanding your triggers can reduce the chance of a breakout. And stress can definitely play a role in the frequency or intensity of your symptoms.

With her team in Valencia, California, Dr. Maricar Cutillar-Garcia diagnoses and treats hives in patients of all ages. 

Here’s a closer look at hives, including stress's impact on your symptoms.

Hives 101

Hives are itchy skin welts that often flare up as an allergic reaction. The raised bumps may appear skin-colored or red and turn white when you press the center. 

Hives can appear anywhere on your body, including your face, arms, back, legs, and torso. They may appear suddenly or become chronic. Acute hives may only last for a few days, while chronic hives can last for months or even years. Symptoms that occur at least twice a week for six weeks or longer are considered chronic.

You should seek emergency care if you experience more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing. 

Common hives triggers

Hives affect people differently, so learning the factors that trigger your flare-ups is important. Common culprits include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Blood transfusions
  • Bug bites or stings
  • Foods such as eggs, peanuts, nuts, and shellfish
  • Hot or spicy dishes
  • Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or penicillin
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen and plants, such as poison ivy
  • Viral infections, like the common cold and mononucleosis (“mono”)
  • Environmental and emotional factors can fuel symptoms if you're prone to hives. Cold temperatures and stressful situations rank high on that list.

How stress impacts hives

If you develop a “stress rash” in response to situations that amp you up emotionally, you’re not alone. Stress can raise your body temperature, causing your body to release chemicals near your skin’s surface that spur the bothersome welts. If this sounds like you, you may be dealing with a sweat allergy. 

If you experience a sudden bout of intense stress, your hives may come on intensely and suddenly. In addition, hives you experience for other reasons may worsen due to sudden or unmanaged stress. That happens when the stress hormone cortisol causes your immune system and skin to become more reactive.

What to do about stress-related hives

If you’re experiencing hives and unsure of the cause, our team may order an allergy test. If an allergy is detected, avoiding the allergen can help in managing hives. 

Other hives treatments include:

  • Medications.
  • Frequent bathing with gentle soap.
  • Applying sunblock before spending time outdoors.

Avoiding extreme temperatures and carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen®) can also help.

While you can’t completely avoid stress, you can learn better ways to manage it. Research shows that psychological counseling can help you healthfully cope with or minimize stress and prevent related hives, especially if you have an anxiety disorder.

Other helpful stress management tools include breathing exercises, meditation, cardiovascular exercise, and support from loved ones. Improving your eating and sleeping habits may lower your stress hormones, too, leading to fewer hives. Aim to eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, for example, and to sleep for 7-9 hours per night.

If you’re struggling to get a handle on your hives, our expert team would love to help. Call our office or book an appointment through our website today.