Can Stress Cause Hives in Adults and Children?

Hives or urticaria are skin rashes which have a dark red appearance. Hives are itchy on the skin and usually swell up as well. These skin lesions are caused by the body’s inflammatory reaction on the skin, which then causes the capillaries to leak to the dermis. The result is redness and swelling.

Welts can start as small points but then eventually become bigger. The welts may join together and form a huge flat red and raised surface on the skin. Welts or wheals are the raised red areas in the body, and they appear anywhere on the skin’s surface. Hives occur when the body releases histamine as well as other chemicals into the bloodstream. The rush of these bodily chemicals cause several areas of the skin to swell, itch and show other symptoms. These welts or wheals can vary in size, from pin point red marks, to huge marks which can be as large as several inches in diameter.


According to some experts, about 75% of all visits to the doctor are due to ailments induced by stress. While occasional stress is not harmful, chronic or high levels of stress can cause mental and physical problems. When the body is under duress, it undergoes several physiological changes including increased heart rate, elevated levels of cortisol, and suppression of serotonin. Stress has been linked to a variety of medical diseases and conditions including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Stress and Hives

It should be no surprise, then, to learn that stress can cause skin hives (urticaria) to erupt in adults and children. A study conducted by the University of Plymouth and Derriford Hospital found a connection between chronic idiopathic urticaria (hives that persist for over six weeks with no known cause) and stressful life events like divorce and bereavement. Post-traumatic stress was also found to induce hives in people suffering from this emotional disorder.

How Stress Causes HivesHow Stress Causes Hives

There are a couple of ways stress can induce skin hives. Stress increases a person’s core body temperature, which can lead to cholinergic urticaria. These are very small hives, about 2 to 4 mm, that often appear on the arms and trunk of the body when it gets too hot. They only last for 60 to 90 minutes but may be accompanied by itching, burning, or tingling.

Stress inhibits proper immune function, which makes a person more susceptible to infections and diseases. Hives are a symptom of several viral illnesses like the common cold and may appear a few days after the person has fallen ill. Sinusitis and urinary tract infections are two bacterial infections that can lead to hives forming on the skin.

Stress can also cause the immune system to malfunction which may lead to an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks itself causing hives and other medical problems. A weakened or malfunctioning immune system may cause the skin to react negatively to substances or conditions that were not bothersome beforehand. For example, a person could develop sensitivity to coldness and get hives each time he or she is exposed to cold water.

In rare cases, a person can have an allergic reaction to the adrenaline pumping through his or her system. When people are under stress, their bodies fill with adrenaline in preparation to fight or flee the threats in their environments. For the odd unfortunate person, he or she may also break out in hives while under pressure.

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