Can Stress Cause Hives?

Hives can be caused by a number of different factors, including stress

Hives
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Hives are patches of puffy, red, itchy or inflamed skin also known as urticaria, and they can be caused or worsened by significant stress in your life. In fact, stress is one of the most common causes of acute hives (hives that last less than six weeks), along with infectious causes and allergies. Stress has also been known to worsen chronic hives (hives that last more than six weeks), even when the chronic hives are primarily due to another cause.

Stress and Chronic Hives

Previous studies have sought to determine the different types of stress that worsened symptoms in people with chronic hives. One study found that 16 percent of the people studied experienced a stressful event within one year before the onset or worsening of their hives.

The most common stressful events that were related to the occurrence of hives included the death of a family member, family conflicts, financial problems, sexual dysfunction, illness of a family member, problems in the workplace, and extramarital affairs. Even forms of good stress—such as getting married or engaged, and going on a vacation—can cause hives. The authors propose that the treatment of stress through relaxation techniques and stress management programs may be useful for the treatment of hives caused or worsened by stress.

Treating Stress-Related Hives

If stress is the cause of your hives, then stress relief should be an important part of treating them.

Methods of stress relief may include taking a much-deserved vacation, starting a hobby as a distraction from stress, practicing meditation and mindfulness, and exercising. If stress-relieving activities don't help to reduce your hives, treatment with oral antihistamines will likely help. You can also work with your doctor or a psychologist to address specific causes of stress and develop coping mechanisms.

Other Causes of Hives 

If you don't think stress is causing your hives or you have tried stress relief activities and still have hives, they may be caused by something other than stress, or in addition to stress. Other causes of hives include: 

  • Viral infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Chronic infections (including viral hepatitis, urinary tract infections, and sinus infections)
  • Metabolic disease (such as thyroid disease, kidney disease, and liver disease)
  • Medications (like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs)

When to See a Doctor 

If your hives are uncomfortable or disrupting your life, consider seeing an allergist or physician to determine the underlying cause, especially if you have never had hives before. In many cases, a doctor can prescribe or recommend an over-the-counter medication that can help relieve your symptoms or calm down your hives as they occur.

If the hives are really severe, if they appear on a large portion of your body, or you have additional symptoms like trouble breathing, go to the emergency room.

Sources:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Hives (Urticaria). Updated October 2015.

Malhotra SK, Mehta V. Role of Stressful Life Events in Induction or Exacerbation of Psoriasis and Chronic Urticaria. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology. 2008;74(6):594-9.

Schwanke, J. Clinicians Examine Mind-Body Connection of Urticaria, Stress. Dermatology Times. Published June 12, 2012. 

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