Can Stress Cause Hives?

Amber Tresca
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Itchy Girl

For decades, doctors have known that stress can cause physical symptoms. Stressful situations launch the body's fight or flight response, kicking in natural mechanisms that helped our ancestors fight off predators, but do little to solve today's work and home-related stressors. The American Academy of Dermatology lists stress as one potential cause for hives.

What Are Hives?

Hives, or urticaria, are a common problem that affect about 15 percent to 20 percent of all people at some time in their lives. Characterized by red or white bumps, hives appear on top of the skin. They may be itchy or may sting. Hives can appear and disappear suddenly, or linger for as long as a week.

Hives are experienced differently from person to person, and different triggers may cause unique manifestations of hives.

Common triggers for hives include allergies to:

  • Foods
  • Pets
  • Perfumes
  • Skin creams
  • Stress-Related Hives

Stress-related hives may show up within minutes of a stressful event, or may take hours to appear. Hives that are brought on by stress may not look any different than hives that are caused by an environmental trigger, such as an allergy to dogs. If it's not clear what is causing a bout of hives, it may take some process of elimination to determine if the hives are stress-related or not.

According to one study published in 2008, some of the more common stressful events associated with an outbreak of hives include a death in the family, family conflict, financial problems, sexual problems, illness of family member, getting married or engaged, problems at work, going on vacation, and extramarital relations.

Stress Hives or Allergies?

Keeping a journal of any episodes of hives may help to determine their cause. A journal can be as simple as pen and paper, or as sophisticated as a spreadsheet. Record the date, time, location, and severity of the hives. Other details that will help include how the hives felt, how big they were, what color, how long they lasted, and where on the body they were located.

In addition, note any new foods, clothing, skin care products, stressful events, or exposure to animals that could have caused the hives. This episode journal provides you and your doctor with clues to determine what may have caused the allergic response.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the cause of chronic hives (hives that come and go over a long period of time), might never become clear, so it is recommended to work with a physician to manage the condition. Seek medical help immediately if an outbreak of hives includes swelling of the mouth or tongue, or if you have difficulty breathing. Always seek medical attention if hives last for longer than a week.

Treating Hives

Hives aren't life threatening, but they can be distressing, especially when they occur on a visible area of the body.

Some treatments for hives include:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamine medicines such as Benadryl
  • Prescription antihistamine medications that are prescribed by a physician
  • Homeopathic remedies such as Apis and Urtica urens as prescribed by a homeopathic practitioner

When hives are determined to be stress-related, treatment might also include some stress-relief techniques:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Exercise
  • Guided imagery
  • Meditation
  • Passive muscle relaxation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Visualization

In addition to incorporating these specific stress management methods and techniques, some lifestyle changes can also help lower stress levels:

  • Drink a relaxing cup of tea
  • Eat a diet of healthy nutritional foods
  • Get a massage
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Laugh
  • Listen to your favorite relaxing music
  • Play with a stress relief ball
  • Relax in a bubble bath
  • Spend time with the people in your life that you care about
  • Stay hydrated - drink plenty of water
  • Take a drive in the country
  • Take a walk
  • Take time for things you enjoy

Reduce Stress to Reduce Hives

Stress can cause hives in some people, but there are effective treatments than can help lessen the symptoms of hives, or even prevent them from occurring. People who are prone to developing hives after stressful life events can be proactive about managing their stress levels. Learning ways to reduce stress can help reduce or eliminate outbreaks of stress-related hives.

Can Stress Cause Hives?