How To Identify A Stress Rash

If the past few years have been stressful for you, you're not alone. Over a third of Americans (37%) reported a poor or fair mental health state, according to a December 2022 poll of 2,212 adults conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Additionally, 26% of those who participated in the poll reported that they anticipated their stress levels would remain high at least for the early part of 2023, per APA.

So, if you're stressed out on a regular basis, how much of an impact does this have on your overall health? Potentially a lot. While there can be some benefits to short-term stress — such as increased stamina to help you focus on meeting a looming deadline or the immediate adrenaline rush that helps you act in a split second to save you from danger — left unchecked, stress can have serious consequences, according to the experts at Cigna. For instance, chronic stress can cause inflammation and reduce your white blood cell counts, leading to a weakening of your immune system.

Long-term stress can also potentially lead to other serious health issues due to stress activating the hormone cortisol, often called the "stress hormone." While cortisol is essential in regulating and managing many bodily functions, chronically elevated levels can lead to sleep problems and elevated blood sugar, which may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, per Cleveland Clinic. The American Heart Association reports that stress can also lead to weight gain and heart disease.

Stress rash: causes and symptoms

Another negative health impact that can arise due to stress is a stress rash. Also known as wheals or welts, a stress rash often manifests in the form of hives on the surface of the skin and can emerge anywhere on your body, according to the experts at Healthline.

The experts at GoodRx Health point out that "stress hives" come about as a result of chemical reactions released by your immune system and have a recognizable swollen, bumpy pattern accompanied by redness. Stress hives are typically oval or round in appearance and one or two centimeters in size. A stress rash will oftentimes feel itchy but don't be surprised if the rash also feels tingly or you experience a burning sensation. Some common areas where stress rashes can appear include the face, arms, legs, and back.

It is worth noting that if you experience a rash, it may not necessarily be due to stress and could instead be associated with a more serious condition called angioedema, per GoodRx Health. Angioedema produces swelling similar to hives except that the swelling occurs in the deeper layers beneath the skin. The experts at Penn Medicine believe that angioedema is an allergic reaction to foreign substances where the immune system's inflammatory response kicks in, releasing chemicals such as histamine into the bloodstream. While angioedema can be triggered by common allergens — such as pollen, animal dander, insect bites, and certain medications — angioedema can also result from infections or serious illnesses such as lupus or leukemia.

Here's how to treat and prevent a stress rash

Though dealing with a stress rash can be frustrating and uncomfortable, the good news is that there are steps you can take to treat and sometimes prevent this skin condition.

So, how can you treat stress rashes? The experts at Healthline explain that, if your rash doesn't seem to be going away on its own, one of the most common and effective ways to address the issue is to take an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin. These medications can help relieve itching, but you may want to consult with your doctor first to see which prescription antihistamine may be best suited for your specific case. Additionally, home remedies, such as applying a cool compress to the rash area, taking a lukewarm shower, or staying well-hydrated may also help reduce itching and general discomfort.

Of course, you ideally don't want to get one of these uncomfortable rashes in the first place. Though preventing stress rashes can be more challenging than treating them, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Perhaps the most obvious step to take, though not always easy, is to manage your stress levels. This can be done through exercise, daily meditation, getting better quality sleep, or potentially other stress-management techniques that work for you. However, if your anxiety becomes an ongoing issue, you may also want to consider consulting with a therapist, who can provide medications, lifestyle changes, or other methods to help you manage your stress levels, per PsychCentral.