Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More

If you find yourself under emotional pressure or feeling particularly stressed, you may develop a skin rash. This rash can have a number of causes that can cause or exacerbate stress.

Up to 20% of people will experience hives at some point in their lives, including a stress rash. Stress itself may not cause a rash or hives, but it can make existing symptoms worse. For this reason, it is important to know the cause of your rash in order to treat it effectively.

This article takes a look at the causes of stress rash, related symptoms, what stress rash looks like, and some possible ways to treat them. It also looks at diagnosing stress rashes and when to contact your doctor about it.

This is a close-up of a person with a chest rash.

Ivan Andrianov/Stocksy United

A stress rash is a type of hives, a rash on your skin that often itches. Hives can take different forms and appear anywhere on your body.

Hives can result from a number of triggers, including:

  • tension
  • certain foods
  • contact with certain chemicals, such as latex
  • medication use
  • insect bites

You can get hives as a result of stress. However, as it can occur due to other factors, it is important to contact your doctor if you are unsure of the cause.

Learn about the link between stress and hives.

What does a stress rash look like?

Stress rashes can vary in shape and size, from small bumps to large welts. They can be red, pink, white or even the same color as your skin.


Roberto Binetti/Shutterstock

Women scratch the itch by hand


Typically, stress itself does not cause hives. However, stress can make existing symptoms worse.

Stress can cause your body to increase its cortisol levels, and this hormone can increase inflammation. This makes it more likely that hives will appear.

What are the symptoms of a stress rash?

Stress rashes are usually itchy and may also be accompanied by a stinging or burning sensation. The rash itself can vary considerably in size and appearance, and may be present from a few minutes to several days.

Learn more about how stress can affect your skin, hair and nails.

Symptoms of a Severe Allergic Reaction

If you are experiencing stress and have a flare-up of hives, the stress can make it worse. However, hives can also occur as a result of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have hives and any of the following symptoms:

If you have a known allergy and have a prescription for an EpiPen or other epinephrine auto-injector, administer it and seek immediate medical attention.

How do I treat a stress rash?

Stress hives usually settle down quickly after they appear, usually between a few minutes and a few days. During that time, however, there are some things you can do to give yourself some relief from hives. This includes the following.

  • Try to avoid getting too hot.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.
  • Apply a cold compress to the area several times a day.
    • However, don’t apply a cold compress if the cold is causing your hives.
  • Take over-the-counter itching medications, such as antihistamines.
  • Moisturize the area several times a day to prevent the skin from drying out.

Since stress contributes to hives, it also helps to take steps to lower your stress level. These steps may include:

  • sports
  • meditate
  • practicing mindfulness

Talk to your doctor if you want to discuss ways to manage stress.

What causes a stress rash?

Hives can be the result of a number of triggers. But stress itself may not be the main cause. Instead, stress makes breakouts more likely by increasing your body’s production of cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for inflammation, and an increase in this hormone makes inflammation like hives more likely.

The main triggers of hives are:

  • allergic reactions, including those to:
    • food
    • insect bites
    • medicines
    • materials such as latex
    • plants
    • pollen
  • your body’s response to sweat, heat, or cold
  • exposure to sunlight
  • pressure on the skin by clothing
  • scratching your skin

Any of these, coupled with stress, can trigger a stress rash flare-up.

In addition, hives can also occur as a result of infections and certain treatments. Among which:

In some cases, medical professionals cannot determine the cause of hives. But even if the cause isn’t known, it’s still possible to treat hives.

If you have hives for 6 weeks or more and the cause is unknown, it’s called chronic spontaneous urticaria.

Learn about other possible causes of hives.

Hives may disappear within a few days. However, contact your doctor if any of the following apply.

  • Symptoms do not improve after 2 days.
  • The rash begins to spread.
  • Hives keep returning.
  • You have a high temperature.
  • There is swelling under your skin.

Your doctor can perform tests to determine the cause of the rash and may also refer you to a dermatologist.

How do doctors diagnose a stress rash?

When diagnosing your stress rash, your doctor or dermatologist will ask you questions such as:

  • How often do you get hives?
  • How long have you had the results?
  • How does the result feel?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

They may also arrange tests to determine the cause of the rash. These can be:

  • skin allergy tests to see if you have had an allergic reaction
  • blood tests to rule out infections or diseases
  • a skin biopsy, in which a sample of the affected skin is sent for laboratory analysis

Can I prevent stress rash?

If stress is contributing to your rash or hives, managing your stress levels can help prevent another outbreak.

People can deal with stress in different ways, but some examples of ways you can reduce stress include:

  • practicing yoga
  • try meditation
  • do tai chi
  • go for a walk
  • spend time with friends or family
  • relax by listening to music or reading a book

Learn about the causes of stress and how to reduce your stress levels.

If your stress rash is primarily due to an allergic reaction or some form of irritation, avoiding triggers will help reduce flare-ups.

A stress rash is a form of hives that occurs when excessive stress causes your body to release more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol controls inflammation and makes hives more common.

Hives can also occur as a result of an allergic reaction, exposure to hot or cold temperatures, or pressure or scratching of the skin. Usually hives last from a few minutes to a few days. To ease your symptoms, you can apply a cold compress or take over-the-counter antihistamines.

However, if hives or stress rashes persist for more than 2 days or begin to spread, it is best to contact your doctor for advice.

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