A problem shared: Is stress causing your itchy skin?

A problem shared, by mother-of-four and GP Clare Bailey: Is stress causing your itchy skin?

  • Hives causes pink welts or bumps on the skin, which may feel itchy, sting or burn
  • READ MORE:  Shortage of treatment for contagious itchy skin condition caused by tiny mites poses ‘significant threat’ to public health, UK health leaders warn

Q I have been getting random itchy, irritating bumps on my skin for no apparent reason. 

I have a busy work schedule and have been trying to improve my diet, eating more veg and introducing home-made sauerkraut, which I love, but wonder if that has contributed? It is the only obvious change I can think of.

A What you describe sounds typical of urticaria, which is also known as ‘hives’. With hives you often get the sudden appearance of pink welts or bumps on your skin, which may feel itchy, sting or burn. 

When it comes out of the blue it can be alarming, but it is common (about 20 per cent of us will get hives at some point).

For reasons we don’t fully understand, hives seem to mainly affect children and women between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. 

With hives you often get the sudden appearance of pink welts or bumps on your skin, which may feel itchy, sting or burn

I have an interest in the subject because recently, aged 62, I also had hives for the first time, with a few dramatic episodes of itchy pink blotches covering me from head to toe.

This is caused by the release of the chemical histamine into the bloodstream. Histamine makes the blood vessels expand and the surrounding skin itchy and swollen.

The most common trigger for hives is an allergic reaction to pet dander, dust mites, insect bites or drugs like ibuprofen. I had spent a few days before my eruption of hives nursing our lovely old dog Tari, who has a range of skin conditions and dander.

But despite assiduously avoiding the poor dog for a week, it happened again, so she is back sitting in my lap.

Then there are a bewildering array of histamine-rich foods that have been linked with hives, and which you might consider excluding from your diet, including bananas, strawberries, avocado, spinach, tomatoes and, yes, sauerkraut.

Many people have flare-ups triggered by alcohol, exercise, the heat or the cold. And stress can also contribute to hives.

So what can you do? Try to avoid scratching as that sends messages to produce more histamine, exacerbating the condition. Lifestyle changes and stress management — yoga, relaxation and mindfulness — should help.

Keep your nails short, to avoid painful scratching, and wear light clothing to reduce irritation. A cold compress for ten to 15 minutes reduces itching, while hot showers and baths can make hives worse.

Clare has a special interest in the subject of hives because recently, aged 62, she got it for the first time, with a few dramatic episodes of itchy pink blotches covering her from head to toe

Non-sedative antihistamines such as loratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine, or levocetirizine are the mainstay of treatment.

You might want to try filling in a Trigger Diary, looking for patterns. By doing this, I discovered that my hives appear to be triggered by heat and friction, as a rash on my back often occurs after long car journeys.

If the rashes are severe and persistent, contact a health professional such as a GP for advice.


In the mornings, my husband Michael flails around alarmingly, standing on one leg while brushing his teeth, so I have to steer clear to avoid injury! Oddly, I have an aptitude for it.

Research shows that as we age, we lose our ability to balance, making falls one of the commonest causes of accidental death. But by improving your strength and balance, you reduce the risk. 

Those aged 50-59 should be able to stand on one leg with their eyes closed for eight seconds, and those aged 60-69 for four seconds. So why not work on your score? Practices such as yoga, or tai chi, can help improve it.

  • You can write to Clare at [email protected] or Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London, W8 5HY. 

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