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What is the Connection Between Stress and Itching?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Though itchy skin can be attributed to many different physical conditions, it can often be triggered by stress. The connection between stress and itching may be due to an immune system response that causes the body to itch in response to stress. This skin inflammation can result in temporary to minor itching problems.

People who experience stress hives may be well aware of the relationship between itchy skin and anxiety or stress. Many people break out in a skin rash, hives, or other skin bumps when experiencing severe anxiety. This skin irritation can be very similar to the same types of breakouts people experience when exposed to poisonous plants or other allergens. Psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis are also thought to possibly be connected to stress.

When stress and itching occur together, the itching is considered to be a psychological response to the body's distress. This relationship between stress and itching is thought to be an example of a mind to body connection. In addition to stress causing such itching, it can also exacerbate itching already in progress from other causes, such as allergic reactions or other physical conditions.

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Physicians emphasize that the relationship between stress and itching is not a made up illness to be taken lightly. Instead, when stress and itching occur simultaneously, they should be treated like any other illness. Such levels of stress may be helped with the aid of a family physician or a psychiatrist. Another underlying cause, such as a physical illness, could be present as well.

Itching due to stress is not generally a serious symptom by itself; the stress or other underlying condition, however, could potentially present a danger depending upon what it is. In any case, this itching can be very irritating and even painful. Sufferers of itching should refrain from scratching the affected area as much as possible, since doing so can both aggravate the condition as well as create more problems, such as bleeding or infection.

Several remedies can be used to combat this itching. Applying a cold compress to the area can often help. Many itch sufferers report finding relief from a lukewarm oatmeal bath. Patients with chronic itching may require a prescription remedy, such as an oral medication or topical treatment.

In order to prevent such skin irritation from stress in the future, patients are usually advised to seek ways to reduce their stress levels. This can be done through a variety of means, such as exercise, yoga, or meditation techniques. Some patients may make drastic lifestyle changes, from losing weight to changing careers. Others may be provided with anti-anxiety medication from their physicians.

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ZipLine
Post 5

@Logicfest-- I don't think that will work because stress induced hives isn't really different than allergy induced hives. The trigger might be different but the underlying cause is an immune system histamine response. So allergy medications will still work for stress caused itching. It won't rule out allergies unfortunately.

The only way to be sure is to see the doctor and get allergy tests done.

turquoise
Post 4

@ysmina-- I'm not a doctor but I think one possible explanation could be the effect that stress has on cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that increases when we feel anxious and threatened. One of the side effects of high cortisol levels in the body is that it weakens the immune system. It actually prevents the immune system from functioning normally. This could cause increases in allergic reactions and other immune system related diseases and I think that's where stress triggered hives and itching come in.

If you think about it this way, itching from stress isn't so strange. People who experience this need to do their best to stay away from stress. Exercise, fun hobbies and a balanced

diet can reduce some of the stress. Aromatherapy and massage are also very helpful. If itching becomes more and more frequent, then it's a good idea to get a thorough physical check up. If stress is the only cause of these reactions, then more serious changes to lifestyle such as a shift to another job may be required. Sometimes, we have to listen to our body and accept it when we can't handle the tension in our lives.
ysmina
Post 3

My colleague experiences mild itching when she's stressed. I had no idea that this was possible until I met her. She actually gets bumpy, itchy skin when she's under a lot of stress. She says that everyone's body responds to stress differently and this is how her body responds. I still don't understand how stress can cause itching though.

Soulfox
Post 2

@Logicfest -- That is not bad advice, but self diagnosing what is causing itching might be more complicated than that. What if you don't respond well to the particular allergy medicine you have selected? Allergies still might be your problem, so you haven't ruled out anything because different people react to medicines in different ways.

That being the case, heading to the doctor and getting a diagnosis may be just the thing you need to do.

Logicfest
Post 1

Before seeing a doctor for stress related itching and spending a bunch of money, you might consider that you are dealing with allergies. I do believe that is most likely the case and the symptoms can be quite similar.

There is an easy and cheap way to determine if your itching skin is caused by allergies or is part of an overall set of stress symptoms. Grab an inexpensive allergy medicine (something with diphenhydramine in it, for example) and see if that eliminates the itching.

If it does, then you are dealing with something other than allergies. Self diagnosis is not always the best course of action, but it might be just the thing in cases such as these.

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