Everyone gives me hives...no, seriously
March 8, 2007 1:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop breaking out into stress hives in most social situations?

Over the last year, I've started getting stress hives all over my neck, face and chest when I get nervous, anxious or stressed. At first, this happened when I had to speak in front of large groups. Increasingly, I am getting hives when I am in very routine social situations (getting my hair cut, talking to neighbors, running into an acquaintance at the super market, having coffee with a friend). The hives go away after about an hour or so. I can feel usually feel the welts heating up and itching on my neck.

I'm a very high strung, nervous, shy person, but I can pull myself together and function quite well in any situation. The worst thing about the hives, is they look really scary and cause people to think that I am having some kind of allergic reaction. The hives are NOT a few small splotches...they look really, really bad and are extremely noticeable.

I have gone to see my Dr., who says that stress hives are just a quirk about my personality and psychosomatic. I have also recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and PCOS, but the Dr. says there is no connection. I saw a psychiatrist about this issue when it first started happening and she prescribed me Lexapro, which did not help at all. The psychiatrist was puzzled by the hives and eventually said that they were just part of who I am and loaned me a cd of "relaxing ocean sounds". In the past, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. My childhood was marked by extreme verbal and emotional abuse. I am currently not taking any medications or drugs at all because I feel like they numb my mind. On that note, I have had difficulty finding a therapist/shrink whom I trust and who knows what to do with me. My last therapist told me that there is nothing wrong with me and that I didn't need to come see her anymore. She said this as I was sitting in her office covered in stress hives.

I am a female in my mid-30's. I quit my desk jockey job to pursue a high pressure post-grad program, where I am a very involved and succesful student and researcher. I eat well, sleep well and have a peaceful and happy home life.

The hives are embarrasing. I'd love not to have my neck break out into a bouquet of scarlet welts every time I have to interact with another human being. I have tried some breathing and relaxation exercises to curb this and have had no luck.

Am I destined to become a hermit? Am I allergic to social situations? Is there anything I can do to stop the hives?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, social anxiety is a real disorder that a lot of people have. Two things helped me with my social anxiety (I used to have panic attacks and do everything in my power to avoid stressful social situations).

1. The cognitive-behavioral exercises in the Social Anxiety & Shyness Workbook.

2. Medication - I went on Celexa for my general anxiety & social anxiety, and while the effects were subtle, a year later I can definitely say that I look forward to most social situations, and don't feel the same kind of pressure or stress that I used to. I'm not perfect - I mean I would be very nervous speaking in front of a large group or meeting a ton of strangers, but for the most part I feel a lot more normal. I know a lot of people are skeptical about medication, but for me, it made such a huge difference with pretty much no side effects.
posted by tastybrains at 2:05 PM on March 8, 2007

Ativan can be used as a sort of tranquilizer from time to time that has helped me. Maybe you should see a different psychiatrist.
posted by chlorus at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2007

wow what a shitty doctor and therapist you have!

"quirk about [your] personality and psychosomatic" - that's just... wow. I can't imagine anything less helpful a doctor could say. Whether it's "psychosomatic" is entirely beside the point- you came to him with a medical condition, and he apparently made no effort whatsoever to offer a solution.

Find a new MD and a new therapist, and good luck!
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:16 PM on March 8, 2007

i used to get stress hives on my hands and feet. i just tried to keep the areas as cool as possible(don't wear scarves or turtle necks), even when they weren't "hived up" and did not scratch them, under any circumstances.

this situation passed for me, some time ago, it only lasted about a year, but i still don't wash my hands or feet in hot water (unless they're really really unhygienic).

doctors prescribed antihistamines and i did elimination diets and nothing worked. just losing the stress. but the diagnosis was retrospective. at the time we were all convinced it was environmental.

you poor thing, it's bloody awful.
best of luck with it,
p.s. most folk don't know it can be a stress thing, so if you just explain it as an allergy, they'll accept that, which should reduce your anxiety, hopefully.
posted by taff at 2:22 PM on March 8, 2007

1. Find a new doctor. Just walk out on anyone who doesn't take you seriously.

2. Realize that it's not actually the hives that bother you, but your perception of peoples' reaction to them. Once you realize that no one cares, your stress level will go down. The absolute worst that would happen is that someone would express concern that you may be physically ill. No one is going to humiliate or embarrass you, especially not in post-grad circles. If this happens even with close friends, tell them that you have an anxiety disorder. If they're your friends, they'll be perfectly understanding, and that will lessen the chance of you having an attack.

3. However, this is a physical response that is not going to go away just by applying reason or deep breathing. To dull the physical response, I'm taking Klonopin. It's not a daily med, so even though it does slow my thinking down when I take it, I can skip it when the need for speedy thought trumps my need to feel calm.

4. Be patient with yourself.
posted by desjardins at 3:18 PM on March 8, 2007

Echo desjardins. Brilliant.
posted by puddleglum at 3:29 PM on March 8, 2007

You're asking anon, so I don't know where you're from, but if you're anyplace in the DC/Baltimore area, please see Dr. Grant Anhalt in Towson, MD. He's associated with Hopkins and sees patients there with certain conditions, and also sees patients in private practice. I see him at his office in Towson. If you aren't in the area, ask your doctor (or insurance carrier) to find a derma-immunologist.

I have shared bits and pieces of my own experience with hives in other threads where related questions were asked. In a nutshell, I have chronic hives that are definitely triggered by stress, and finally was referred to this doctor. He told me that most people who have chronic hives, irrespective of the trigger, share a gene that predisposes them to this type of "allergic" reaction (although it's not always triggered by an allergen).

Here's the treatment that has mine completely under control - I take Atarax (antihistimine) and Doxepin at night - Doxepin was used as an antidepressant ages ago, but if you take enough for it to help with depression, you're out cold. It's given in small doeses for sleep (I take 25 mg), and has been show effective in some cases for itch and for pain cycle. In the morning, I take Zyrtec AND Allegra. I also have a very mild topical steroid cream to use if things are bad, but haven't had to use it more than 3 or 4 times in the past 6 months or so.

I'm certainly not saying you need this level of treatment - my hives did NOT go down/go away within an hour - it was more like hours or days. You should definitely pursue this medically, though. Don't let a dismissive doctor or two convince you that there's nothing to be done to help you.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:42 PM on March 8, 2007

Heh, I have similar, but since I'm dark skinned, it does not show. Anyways, use this - just think: "What is the very worst that could happen in this situation." Then try to imagine the very worst case scenario. It will put things in perspective.
posted by markesh at 1:08 AM on March 9, 2007

I get hives on my hands every now and then in response to stress. It's very minor, thankfully.

I think there's another factor involved - sometimes I'll get them every day even with minor stress, other times they'll be invisible despite severe stress for a month or two.
posted by mmoncur at 9:54 PM on March 13, 2007

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