What are Wheals?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Wheals are sections of skin that is irritated and somewhat elevated in comparison with the surrounding skin. Sometimes referred to as welts, the appearance is often anywhere from pale purple to fiery red in color. Often the area is tender to the touch and may also be itchy. Several conditions can create wheals, ranging from allergic reactions to some type of topical trauma to the skin.

Itchiness may accompany an area affected by wheals.
Itchiness may accompany an area affected by wheals.

In many cases, the appearance of these has to do with the outbreak of a skin condition, such as hives. At first, the wheals may appear to be somewhat pale red in color, barely distinguishable to the surround skin. In a short time, the areas begin to elevate and take on a deeper color, making them very obvious. As the wheals continue to form, the individual may begin to notice that the area is extremely tender, causing some degree of pain whenever the skin brushes against any other surface. Typically, as the allergy is treated and begins to subside, the inflamed areas will also begin to reduce in size and pale in color until they are no longer marring the surface of the skin.

The appearance of wheals often has to do with an outbreak of hives.
The appearance of wheals often has to do with an outbreak of hives.

Wheals may also form due to some sort of trauma to the skin. For example, a welt may form because of some blunt force that comes in contact with the skin, causing minor damage to the epidermal layers. As the body seeks to repair the damage, the affected area may elevate and take on first a red and then a purplish hue. Tenderness may or may not be present. Once the body heals the damage, the wheal quickly disappears.

In most cases, wheals are associated with hives triggered by exposure to soap, detergent, bubble bath or another allergen.
In most cases, wheals are associated with hives triggered by exposure to soap, detergent, bubble bath or another allergen.

Scratches often accompany his condition. The area around the scratch rises as the immune system sets to work in protecting the punctured skin and repairing the damage. At first, the area may be red but as the body initiates the healing process, the redness gradually subsides. As the scratch scabs over, the swelling also begins to ease until the scab is more or less level with the surrounding area.

Over-the-counter ointments can help relieve the itching associated with wheals.
Over-the-counter ointments can help relieve the itching associated with wheals.

When dealing with any skin condition that has led to the development of wheals, it is important to determine the origin and respond appropriately. This often means refraining from itching even when the desire is very strong, as this will only aggravate the damaged skin or inflame the rash. Often, over the counter products such as salves and ointments will help ease the itching and also facilitate the healing process. Should the condition persists, see a physician for more aggressive treatment options.

Wheals might be caused by allergies.
Wheals might be caused by allergies.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


How can a wheals patient know the particular cause?


@lighth0se33 – Unfortunately, since you have had chicken pox, you are at risk of getting another illness that makes wheals develop. People who have had the chicken pox virus can get shingles when they are older, and this condition is arguably even worse.

The virus stays in your system for all those years, and it can pop up as shingles down the road. You get covered in itchy wheals, sometimes just in one area, like under your arm. Even if you do get wheals on multiple areas, it is usually only on one side.

My aunt had shingles last year, and she said that the pain is worse than the itching. The wheals are very sensitive, and she had to take pain pills to cope with daily life. She had shingles for five weeks, and she had to be off work all that time.


When I think of wheals, I think of chicken pox. I had it when I was nine, and those raised itchy red spots all over my body made it nearly impossible to keep from scratching my skin.

These wheals were so itchy, and the fact that they were all over me made the itchiness even worse. I resisted the urge to scratch most of the time, but after my mother caught me giving into temptation, she made me wear oven mitts on my hands.

Even thinking about those wheals now makes me itchy. Some of them turned to blisters and popped, and I still have the scars.

Are there any other diseases that can cause wheals? I would hate to think I might experience something like that ever again.


I got a painful wheal after rollerskating into a parked vehicle. I came around a curve and had no time to brake, and my thigh collided with the bumper hard.

The area turned bright red, and it later turned purple. It was so sensitive to the touch that I could not even wear jeans over it. I had to wear shorts until it healed.

If I turned over on that side while sleeping, I would awaken in pain. I had never had an injury quite like this before, though I had experienced my share of bruises. This wheal required me to be more careful than I have ever had to be with an injury.


My husband is allergic to mushrooms, and he develops wheals all over if he eats one unknowingly. I saw this happen last year when we ate egg rolls at a Chinese restaurant. We didn't even think to check if they had mushrooms in them, and it turns out that they did.

Just a few minutes after eating two egg rolls, he broke out. Red, itchy areas covered his arms and legs. He realized what had happened, and he took a couple of antihistamines right away.

He also suffered some diarrhea and cramping. He didn't go into shock or have difficulty breathing, though, but those wheals were alarming.

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