What is the Connection Between Hives and Stress?

L.R. Ferguson

Hives and stress are a common ailment that many medical professionals suspect are the body’s physical response to mental and emotional tension. Hives are an inflamed, raised and itchy rash that often fades just as quickly as it appears. Stress, or the feeling of overwhelming emotions, is known to cause the sudden appearance of hives. Hives can appear sporadically or in response to a specific trigger. They can also develop chronically in an individual, with a person experiencing them frequently throughout his or her life.

Stress compromises the body's immune system and ability to fight off health threats, such as hives.
Stress compromises the body's immune system and ability to fight off health threats, such as hives.

Also called urticaria, hives can form practically anywhere on the body. There are many reasons why hives develop — such as exposure to an irritating fabric or soap or to extreme heat or cold — and stress commonly causes them to appear. Although the exact correlation between hives and stress has not been determined, it is generally accepted that stress compromises the body’s immune system and decreases its ability to fight off infection and other health threats. In response to this stress, the body releases histamine, a chemical compound that acts as an irritant and causes inflammation of the skin, such as hives.

Small cluster of hives.
Small cluster of hives.

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Stress-induced hives, though harmless, can be unsightly. The appearance of hives can range from small, individual raised areas to inflamed welts that blend together to form plaques on the skin. Furthermore, hives are itchy and can seem to appear out of nowhere, with little stimulation or no clear or apparent trigger. They can last for as little as a few minutes or as long as several hours, and they can disappear and reappear for weeks at a time. Frequently appearing hives can worry or disturb an individual, cause emotional tension and thus perpetuate the cycle of hives and stress.

Anti-itch cream can be applied to alleviate the symptoms of hives.
Anti-itch cream can be applied to alleviate the symptoms of hives.

Hives are considered to be a nuisance to the individual more than a threat to his or her health, and they are not particularly dangerous. To treat common cases of hives and stress, an antihistamine — an anti-inflammatory agent that blocks the reaction of histamines in the body — is topically applied to the afflicted area of skin or is taken as oral medication. Nonetheless, hives can appear anywhere on the body, and it is not unusual for the rash to develop on the face, neck and throat. Hives on these areas can potentially impede breathing, and a person might require medical assistance. In such cases, a person typically will be given steroids to get rid of the hives and inflammation.

Stress often causes hives to appear.
Stress often causes hives to appear.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

@anamur-- Have you noticed a connection between caffeinated drinks, stress and hives?

Recently, I've start getting hives on my face and arms when I'm stressed as well. But I've also noticed that my breakouts are worse when I've had too much caffeine in the form of coffee and soda.

I know that caffeine can cause stress symptoms and even trigger anxiety attacks in some people. Could my stress and hives be due to caffeine?

serenesurface

Lots of people break out in hives when they're stressed, nervous or even embarrassed. It's been happening to me for years, especially at work when I have to present at a meeting or speak in front of people.

burcidi

I have a nine month old daughter. Whenever I take her somewhere crowded, she breaks out in hives. At first, I thought it was heat induced or because of her clothing. But I make sure that she never gets too hot and she wears the same clothes at home without problem.

After her third breakout at my cousin's birthday, I took her to the pediatrician and he said that it's probably because she's stressed. I had never heard of hives from stress before.

We've been told to keep her out of very crowded places until she's a little bit older. I haven't taken her to any gatherings or shopping centers for the past three weeks and she hasn't had hives at all.

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