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How to recognize and treat stress rashes and hives, according to dermatologists


While some people might get headaches or have difficulty sleeping when under stress, others might develop a rash.


Stress rashes are common and usually not a cause for concern, says Patrick Lee, MD, Vice-Chair in the department of dermatology and clinical professor at UCI School of Medicine. However, they can be itchy and uncomfortable.


Here's why your body might develop a rash under stress as well as how long it could last and what you can do to treat it.


A stress rash usually appears as raised red bumps called hives, says Niket Sonpal, MD, adjunct assistant professor at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. They can form in clusters and look like large welts or tiny dots.


Symptoms of a stress rash include:

  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Swelling

  • Blotchy skin

  • A burning or tingling sensation when the rash is touched

A stress rash can occur anywhere, Lee says, but is more likely to show up in areas where your skin folds or rubs against clothing, like:

  • Armpits

  • On your waist where the waistband of your pants might sit

  • The crease in your elbow

  • Behind the knee

Because a stress rash looks similar to other types of hives, it can be difficult to self-diagnose, Lee says. However, it's most likely a stress rash if you've been experiencing a period of stress and there is no other likely cause, like allergies or illness.

In fact, a 2008 study found that short-term financial, personal, or professional stress can cause an acute form of hives that fades within a few days or weeks. But sometimes hives can persist for much longer, Sonpal says.

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