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Home arrow Health arrow Mental Health arrow Stress Rash: What It Looks Like and How to Get Rid of It

Stress Rash: What It Looks Like and How to Get Rid of It

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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
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Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
6 min read 1208 Views 0 Comments
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Stress can cause unpleasant rashes on the skin. Here’s how to recognize them and effective ways to treat them.

Stress Rash

Stress is a common cause of skin rash. Virtually anyone can be affected by a stress rash, but not every person with stress has rashes, and not every skin rash is caused by stress. So why do some people develop rashes when undergoing stressful situations?

People with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and allergies are more likely to develop a rash when stressed.

There are also some key factors related to increased skin sensitivity to stress. Discovering and treating these underlying conditions can be a turning point for your skin and overall health. This article reviews the fundamental aspects involved in the appearance of a stress-induced rash, prevention measures, and effective tips on how to treat a stress rash at home.

Can You Get Rashes From Stress?

Yes, some skin rashes are caused by stress. Anxiety and stress can affect every organ, including the skin.

Stress releases chemical substances that cause skin inflammation and increased itching sensations.

Stress rashes frequently appear as raised red or pink bumps called hives. A stress rash can appear anywhere on the body, but it’s often found on the neck, chest, and arms. It may itch and cause a burning or tingling sensation.

As existing hives clear, new ones may appear. New hives can reappear on different areas of the skin. Most people get new hives for a few days.

Stress can also trigger flare-ups in pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema, acne, rosacea, and psoriasis. These skin diseases are very sensitive to increased levels of emotional stress.

What Causes Stress Rash?

Stress rashes, also called anxiety hives, are a response of the skin to the chemicals released by stressful stimuli. These same chemicals – also called mediators – can be liberated due to other factors, such as medications, food allergens, or physical factors like heat, cold, or pressure.

There are at least two underlying conditions that can induce and increase skin sensitivity to stress mediators:

  • Reduced vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays an important role in immune system regulation. There is evidence that its deficiency is related to increased immune activity in the skin that causes an exaggerated response to stress mediators.
  • Intestinal dysbiosis. The alteration of gut microbiota – the microorganisms living in a person’s gastrointestinal system – can lead to a gut barrier dysfunction which increases intestinal permeability, leading to the development of inflammatory skin diseases.

If it’s the first time you experience a rash and you don’t suffer from any other skin conditions it’s not a bad idea to see a medical professional and make sure the diagnosis is correct.

It’s possible that if you’re experiencing hives and you have been under a lot of stress or feeling anxious, the cause of the rash may be stress. It’s important to consider other possible causes and pay attention to the appearance of associated symptoms – such as breathing difficulty or fever.

What Does a Stress Rash Look Like?

A stress rash often takes the form of hives, also called wheals or welts. They look like red or pink bumps on the skin. They might look different depending on the skin tone.

Welts may vary from small bumps that have the size of a lentil to those as big as the palm of the hand. They can be separated or converged, forming large plaques. These bumps may appear in one part of the body and then resolve and reappear somewhere else.

A stress rash can also look like a red or discolored zone in a previously scratched area of the body. It can be in the form of hives, or it may appear as a splotchy red area in people with light skin tones.

Sometimes the first symptom is itching, tingling, or burning, which leads to rubbing or scratching, and then a rash shows up. 

Not every rash is caused by stress, anxiety, or other negative experiences. Some hives or rashes might look like they were caused by negative emotions while, in reality, they are not related. Other rashes that might be confused with anxiety hives are:

#1 Heat rashes

They’re a reaction to high temperatures or humid weather and often occur in areas of the skin covered by clothes or those that are very sweaty.

#2 Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction caused by skin contact with an allergen. There are a variety of allergens that may cause contact dermatitis, and one person can be allergic to many of them. Some examples are soaps, jewelry, different kinds of plants, and various chemicals – fertilizers, disinfectants, pesticides, etc.

#3 Insect bites

If there are many of them, insect bites can cause rashes and hives, too.

How to Get Rid of Stress Hives?

These are some useful recommendations on how to treat a stress rash:

  • Avoid scratching the rash. Though this can be extremely difficult, scratching increases inflammation and may worsen the rash and itching.
  • Use cool compresses in the affected zone to reduce itching and inflammation. Warning: the cold may trigger hives in some people. If you know you have increased skin sensitivity to the cold, this particular recommendation may not be for you.
  • Avoid hot showers or high humidity.
  • Take a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal. Do not rub the affected area with sponges, washcloths, or loofah.
  • Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free soap or cleanser. The fragrances added to cleansing products can be irritating to the skin.
  • Use anti-itch cream or lotion on the itchy areas.
  • Wear loose-fitting, 100% cotton clothes. This can reduce skin irritation.

Most stress rashes are relieved with these measures. If your rash doesn’t respond to home treatment, you should see a doctor. Maybe you need a stronger treatment with prescription medications to help relieve symptoms.

Stress rash is a benign condition. In the absence of other symptoms, it usually lasts a few days, and outbreaks are usually mild. But it can be very irritating and is frequently recurrent. Stress rashes can come and go in the course of days or weeks.

Sometimes the discomfort of a stress rash can be too upsetting and disturb your daily life. If you have trouble sleeping, undertake daily chores, or develop additional symptoms, contact your doctor for examination and treatment.

If the rash lasts more than 6 weeks it’s considered chronic hives, and you should consult with a doctor to look into other possible causes.

If you suffer from pre-existing skin conditions and experience frequent flare-ups, it may be time to visit your healthcare provider to adjust your usual medication or consider alternative treatments.

If you experience trouble breathing, wheezing, dizziness, vomiting, or swelling in your mouth or eyelids, it may be a serious allergic reaction, get immediate medical care or go to the nearest emergency room.

In some cases, vitamin D supplements may be required. You must always check with a healthcare provider for vitamin D dosage and supplement indication if needed.

You may find it encouraging to know that treatment can be effective even when the cause of your hives remains unknown. Though it can be really helpful to find out what’s causing the hives, sometimes a cause cannot be found. About 50% of people with chronic hives never find out what causes their flare-ups but can still find an effective treatment.

How to Prevent a Stress Rash?

Basically, stress rash prevention is based on strategies to manage stress. If you are experiencing hives caused by acute or chronic stress, it may be your body’s way of telling you to slow down.

It’s hard. We live in a stressful world, and most times, we can’t change our stressful environment. But here are some stress management techniques to help you reduce the impact of stress on your health:

  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Limit screen time and social media use.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditate.
  • Try chi walking or get some light exercise.
  • Develop good sleep habits.
  • Follow a stretching routine.
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet.

A Word From a MD

Stress and anxiety affect each person differently. But a constant state of tension is not healthy for anyone. There are many effective treatments to get rid of hives when they appear, but they will keep reappearing if stress is not reduced.

Stress management is the basis of prevention. As simple as it sounds, sleep, exercise, and diet are the key pillars.

A natural and balanced diet and staying away from ultra-processed food are the fundamentals of a stress-free lifestyle. It’s important not only what you eat but how you eat it. Taking the time to sit down and enjoy a meal, having screen-free dinners with family or friends, and having good eating habits can go a long way when it comes to reducing stress.

Consuming ultra-processed products on a regular basis can induce gut dysbiosis and chronic intestinal inflammation and lead to low-grade systemic inflammation that underlies an increased skin sensitivity to stress. Also, stress can be a contributing factor to chronic gut inflammation. Hence diet and stress management are key to a healthier gut and skin.

Conclusion

Stress rashes are a common affliction that affects many people, especially those who suffer from other skin conditions. They are considered benign and can be treated at home or by a primary healthcare provider.

The basic strategy to prevent them is to develop stress management techniques. It’s important to consider other possible diagnoses and consult a doctor in case of doubt or in the presence of concurrent severe symptoms.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
HR_author_photo_Rosmy
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 10, 2023
6 min read 1208 Views 0 Comments
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