Stress-Related Rashes: Everything You Need to KnowMarch 20, 2023
When an individual is particularly overwhelmed or anxious, they may experience a stress-induced rash. Generally appearing as red and itchy on areas of the body that come in contact with clothing or jewelry, this blog post outlines how to recognize and treat these stress-related rashes.
What Are Stress-Related Rashes?
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but it can take a toll on your body in more ways than one. A physical sign that you may be overwhelmed by stress is rashes or atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema flare-ups. This type of skin condition appears when accumulated emotions such as anxiety and tension trigger inflammation in the cells beneath the surface. Knowing what to look for can help identify underlying causes and find methods to reduce them before they worsen over time.
Stress rashes often appear as raised discolored bumps called hives. They are commonly found on the face, chest, neck, or arms and may itch, burn or tingle. Luckily, a stress-induced rash generally doesn’t cause concern. In fact, it can often be treated easily at home. Read on to learn how to identify a stress rash and the best way to treat it.
What causes a stress rash?
Hives are often the result of your immune system reacting to an allergen (such as food or pollen). Hives can also be caused by other factors such as viral infections, illnesses, drug reactions, or environmental triggers. Stress is considered to be an environmental trigger.
Stress can come from anywhere, but common triggers for stress rashes are:
- starting college, getting married, or other major life events
- new jobs or challenging promotions
- an overly ambitious new exercise routine
- quitting smoking or a drastic change to your diet
- a death in the family or other sources of grief
- anxiety over friends or loved ones going through hard times
- a period of insomnia or poor sleep hygiene
In addition to these common events, a history of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, somatoform disorder, or other mental health conditions can cause chronic stress that leads to hives.
When stressed, it isn’t uncommon to experience a flare-up related to an existing skin condition. This happens because your body releases extra chemicals like neuropeptides and neurotransmitters when you’re under stress or anxiety. Stress can also cause an increase in immune cells, resulting in an autoimmune reaction and hives.
These chemicals can change how your body responds to various functions. This change in response can cause inflammation, sensitivity, and other discomforts to the skin.
Symptoms of Stress-Related Rashes
The most common symptom of a stress-related rash is itchy skin that may be red, raised bumps, or hives. They can also be called wheals or welts. Hives can appear anywhere on the body. Areas affected by hives are generally raised, itchy, and swollen and are sometimes warm to the touch. From the size of a pencil eraser to that of a dinner plate, blotchy patches can appear on parts of your body like the neck, chest, arms, legs, elbows, and face. This is usually caused by irritants such as soap or jewelry coming in contact with the skin. Other signs you may experience include dryness, stinging pain when touched, and dark spots on affected areas.
These papules may occasionally coalesce to form sizeable weals. Ranging in size, these patches can vary from minuscule – less than a centimeter – to gigantic blotches covering generous portions of the skin.
- For those with black or brown skin, hives may appear as a pinkish to slightly darker elevated patch that’s different from your natural hue.
- On lighter-toned skin, hives commonly display as patches of rosy or red discoloration.
A stress rash tends to come and go. They may show up on one part of the body, then resolve and reappear somewhere else. They typically decide within 2 to 3 hours, but it can take up to 1 day for you to feel full relief.
Areas affected by hives will likely itch. You may also experience a tingling or burning sensation when touching the affected areas. A single hive generally fades in about 24 hours. But new hives may form as old hives disappear. If you have multiple appearances of hives, you may experience these symptoms for about six weeks. This is considered “acute hives.”
Though less common, your symptoms may persist beyond six weeks. If this happens, your hives are considered chronic.
Treating Stress Related Rashes
There are several ways to treat stress-related rashes, including:
Cleanse the skin. Keeping the affected area clean with lukewarm water daily can help reduce inflammation and itching.
Take medication. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce itching and inflammation but should be taken under medical supervision if they persist beyond two weeks. Common OTC treatments include:
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- calamine lotion
- hydrocortisone cream
- anti-itch creams such as Sarna or CeraVe
Use cold packs. Applying cold compresses to the affected area can temporarily help soothe an irritated rash.
Be mindful of skin products. Avoiding irritants such as soaps, perfumes, and lotions that may worsen your condition should be avoided at all costs.
Avoid skin dryness. Moisturizing regularly can help prevent dryness which could worsen your condition if not attended to promptly.
Managing your stress
If your rash is caused by stress, this may be a sign that you need to lower the number of stressors in your life. There are many stress management techniques to help ease your mind and relieve stress, including:
- going to therapy or a support group
- practicing meditation or yoga
- exercising regularly (in ways that don’t aggravate your hives)
- making time for personal hobbies, such as baking, dancing, or kickboxing
- eating a balanced diet
- getting plenty of sleep and rest
Once you identify techniques that help you relax and reframe your outlook, your skin condition improves.
If your signs and symptoms persist or if you believe there is an underlying condition, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a healthcare professional. They can collaborate with you to decide on the best course of action while simultaneously utilizing over-the-counter medications in order to reduce irritation and inflammation during this time.
If you experience any signs that often accompany a skin rash after an emotionally taxing event, it’s important to reach out to your doctor immediately. With proper treatment and care over time, these discomforts can be managed. Your physician will provide guidance on how best to treat the symptoms in an optimal way for you!