Stress Can Make Hives Worse in Those Who Are Already Prone to Getting Them
â€œFor most individuals, stress isnâ€™t an independent risk factor for hives â€” or else wouldnâ€™t we all have hives?â€ says Adam Friedman, MD, a professor of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, DC.
For instance, there is some evidence that hives may affect women more than men. (1) Hives are also more common in people with autoimmune diseases. (2) And hives also tend to be common in people who have other allergic reactions, too â€” and when they do, stress can make those hives worse.
If you fall into one of those groups, stress may trigger hives. But for other individuals stress alone may not be enough to trigger hives.
There is one form of chronic hives, cholinergic urticaria (wherein the hives are triggered by elevated body temperature), in which emotional stress can induce the rash, says Anthony M. Rossi, MD, an assistant attending dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. And that condition tends to be more common in people with conditions like asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis.
Stress may influence hives in another way, too, if that stress causes you to pick or scratch your skin (which is a common habit, Dr. Friedman says). Friction or pressure on the skin is a risk factor for hives, and the act of scratching that skin can cause the release of the chemical histamine, he says. When that happens, your body reacts by producing a hive.
Another mechanism by which stress affects hives is in people who have a condition called dermatographia, Dr. Rossi says. When people who have this condition scratch their skin, even lightly, those scratches result in a raised welt that looks like a hive. The skin has erroneously released histamine because itâ€™s not been triggered by a response from the bodyâ€™s immune system, but rather by an external stimulus, like exercise, heat, stress, vibration, or exposure to the cold. (3)
Doctors arenâ€™t entirely sure what causes this condition, but it's estimated to affect 2 to 5 percent of the population. (3)
The Symptoms That Stress Can Bring on
Emotional stress can prompt these long- and short-term symptoms.
Living With Hives Can Certainly Contribute to Stress
Whether or not stress contributes to hives, the opposite is certainly true: Hives can add a significant amount of stress to people who are prone to them.
â€œWhen somebody has chronic hives, the effect on their mental health and well- being can be dramatic,â€ says Sarina Elmariah, MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Because that person knows he may be uncomfortable and scratching himself â€” scratching is a reflex, and if your skin is itching, youâ€™ll scratch it, Dr. Elmariah adds â€” that person might avoid certain social situations.
You often donâ€™t sleep well as a result of feeling discomfort like this, which can cause irritability and fatigue. â€œAt that point, it becomes a real challenge not only for patients, but often their families who have to learn to deal with the dynamics of somebody whoâ€™s chronically uncomfortable,â€ Elmariah says. This dynamic can create more challenges at home and in the workplace.
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Treating Chronic Idiopathic Hives
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Living With Chronic Hives: Sierraâ€™s Story
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Is It Hives or Something Else?
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