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What Is Nettle Rash?

Nettle rash, also known as urticaria, is a skin reaction characterized by itchy, raised welts that resemble the sting from a nettle plant. These can appear suddenly and often result from allergies or stress. Understanding the triggers and treatments is key to managing this condition. Wondering how to soothe your skin and prevent future outbreaks? Let's explore together.
Jillian O Keeffe
Jillian O Keeffe

Nettle rash is a condition that is due to an immune system problem, and not usually from exposure to nettles. The rash appears on the skin as red areas that may be raised in the skin. Although the condition can resolve on its own over the course of a day, it does tend to return over and over to the affected person. Possible causes include allergies to food, reactions to medicine and exposure to animals.

In a healthy person, the immune system protects the body from dangers like infectious disease. Sometimes the inflammation, redness and swelling that the immune system can use as tools against infection is produced accidentally in response to substances that should not pose any significant danger to the body. This occurs in cases of nettle rash, but often, the person cannot figure out what substances, or conditions, cause the rash.

A nettle rash typically produces raised hives on the skin.
A nettle rash typically produces raised hives on the skin.

Typically, a nettle rash produces raised hives on the skin that are red and itchy. This condition is also called either urticaria or hives, and may be present in a chronic form affecting people regularly, or an acute form, happening only rarely. Although the locations of the spots on the skin can change over time, a typical case goes away after only one day.

Although a nettle rash typically resolves on its own within a day, it tends to return.
Although a nettle rash typically resolves on its own within a day, it tends to return.

The swelling and the inflammatory redness is caused by the presence of a substance called histamine in the affected area. Histamine levels rise with allergic immune response, and signal to the blood vessels in the vicinity of the supposed invader to leak fluid into the skin, thus making the raised bumps associated with the condition. As histamine is an integral part of the development of hives, an antihistamine medication can be beneficial to the affected person.

A nettle rash may be caused by an underlying immune system problem.
A nettle rash may be caused by an underlying immune system problem.

When the person is able to figure out what the cause of the rash is, he or she may find it is a natural, artificial or a physical cause. Natural triggers include pollen, insect bites and foodstuffs. Artificial causes include medications, such as antibiotics and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Ingredients in perfume or nickel exposure can also produce the characteristic rash. Even alterations in the physical environment can produce nettle rash, such as exposure to the sun, physical pressure on the skin, or changes in body temperature.

Exposure to the sun is a possible cause of nettle rash.
Exposure to the sun is a possible cause of nettle rash.

If a person experiences many episodes of the rash, he or she may also have an underlying immune system problem, but this is not common. Some cases of nettle rash, characterized by rash around the mouth, on the hands and next to the eyes, are caused by a condition called hereditary angioneurotic oedema. This is caused by genetic mutations, and requires a doctor's advice rather than antihistamine treatment.

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Discussion Comments

ysmina

I developed a nettle rash when I first moved into my apartment, before the apartment and the carpets were cleaned. It only occurred once and went away with an over the counter corticosteroid ointment. I suspect that it was a mite allergy but I'm not sure because it never happened again.

SteamLouis

@fBoyle-- Good point. I think this name was given because contact with nettle creates a rash that's similar or same in appearance-- red, raised, itchy bumps.

I'm not a doctor but I think that nettle rash is just a folk name or common name for urticaria. Urticaria is the technical/latin name for hives. It's a general category and can include different kinds of rashes. What they all have in common is that these rashes are caused by an allergic reaction. The cause could be immune system related or as an allergic reaction to food or to things that one has had physical contact with.

So technically, if you touch nettle and develop a rash, it's contact urticaria. So it is a type of nettle rash! If you eat something you're allergic to and develop a red, itchy, bumpy rash, that's also a type of nettle rash.

fBoyle

I don't understand where the name of this rash comes from. Why is it called a nettle rash if it has nothing to do with nettles?

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    • A nettle rash typically produces raised hives on the skin.
      By: Jürgen Fälchle
      A nettle rash typically produces raised hives on the skin.
    • Although a nettle rash typically resolves on its own within a day, it tends to return.
      By: librakv
      Although a nettle rash typically resolves on its own within a day, it tends to return.
    • A nettle rash may be caused by an underlying immune system problem.
      By: jovanmandic
      A nettle rash may be caused by an underlying immune system problem.
    • Exposure to the sun is a possible cause of nettle rash.
      By: azazello
      Exposure to the sun is a possible cause of nettle rash.
    • The swelling and inflammatory redness associated with a nettle rash is caused by the presence of histamine in the affected area.
      By: marilyn barbone
      The swelling and inflammatory redness associated with a nettle rash is caused by the presence of histamine in the affected area.
    • Most drugstores stock several antihistamine medications that are available without a prescription.
      By: dusk
      Most drugstores stock several antihistamine medications that are available without a prescription.
    • Nettle rash may be caused by exposure to bubble bath, soap, detergent or a number of other substances.
      By: stormy
      Nettle rash may be caused by exposure to bubble bath, soap, detergent or a number of other substances.
    • An insect bite may be responsible for triggering a nettle rash.
      By: Henrik Larsson
      An insect bite may be responsible for triggering a nettle rash.