Welts (Wheals)

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A welt is an area of skin that becomes raised after pressure is applied or an injury occurs. Other causes include allergic reactions or infections.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for welts.

Arm with welts or hives

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Symptoms of Welts

Welts can appear on the skin and come with no other symptoms. They are typically the same color as the skin. However, they can turn red or pink and become itchy. The shape of the welt may be round and small, although it can be randomly shaped and more prominent. Typically welts resolve within a few days, but they can become chronic and recur often.

Are Welts Considered a Rash?

Welts can develop as solo or a small number of raised bumps on the skin, but if they grow in a cluster, they can be considered a skin rash.

Causes of Welts

Several things can cause a welt to develop on the skin. Pressure or an injury is one of the leading causes because the skin becomes swollen, inflamed, and rises in response to that injury.

Welts can develop when a person breaks out into hives as well. Other causes can include:

  • Allergic reactions: Insect bites or stings and environmental or food allergies can cause a person to break out into welts all over their body.
  • Infections: Some infections, such as COVID-19, can lead to the development of welts on the body.
  • Exposure to cold or heat: Welts can develop due to extreme heat or cold. The drastic temperature changes can be natural or artificial, such as in air-conditioned or heated rooms or buildings. 
  • Emotional stress: The type of welts that develop because of emotional stress are called hives. When many welts develop, they are called a stress rash.
  • Immune system: In cases of long-term or chronic welts, it’s thought that the immune system may play a role and be attacking healthy tissues that lead to the welts developing.
  • Other diseases: Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid conditions can all lead to the development of welts or hives on the skin.
  • Unknown origin: In some cases, welts may develop on the skin without any underlying cause. These types are known as idiopathic welts.

What Can Trigger Welts or Hives?

Some things, such as drinking alcohol and caffeine, can trigger welts in some people. Other triggers include exposure to sunlight, exercise, and swimming.

What Medications Can Cause Welts?

Certain medications may cause welts to develop, such as:

If, after taking medication, you develop welts or a hives rash, contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to tell you if it’s safe to continue taking the medication or help you find one that works for you without causing welts.

How to Treat Welts

Treating welts depends on the cause. In some cases, you can let the welts heal on their own. You can try to cope with symptoms by applying a cold compress to the area, wearing loose-fitting clothing, and applying an anti-itch cream such as calamine lotion on the welts.

Other treatments can vary depending on the cause and can include:

  • Allergic reactions can be treated using antihistamines.
  • Infections will be treated on a case-by-case basis. If the hives are from a viral infection, treatment to manage the symptoms will be done while the body fights off the infection. 
  • Exposure to cold or heat: You can avoid temperature-induced hives or welts by ensuring that your body is covered when out in the cold and that you remain cool in hot temperatures.
  • Emotional stress: For stress-induced welts, antihistamines may be used to help quell the body’s reaction. Learning stress-management techniques can also help to reduce the frequency of stress welts. These techniques can include meditating, exercising every day, and practicing mindfulness.
  • Immune system: Chronic autoimmune welts or hives can be treated using corticosteroids. One specific type used is prednisone.

Before At-Home Treatment

If you experience welts or hives, you must see your healthcare provider before starting at-home treatment to determine if an underlying health issue is causing them that requires more aggressive treatments.

Are There Tests to Diagnose Welts?

Typically, healthcare providers will be able to diagnose welts by looking at them. That said, diagnosing the cause of the welts requires a more in-depth approach. Your medical provider will ask about your welts, how often they occur, and your health history. In many cases, no further testing will be required.

However, healthcare providers may also inquire about how you generally feel to see if there is any other type of infection or illness. If they suspect there might be, the tests they perform will vary depending on what they think could be causing them. Some possible tests include:

  • Allergy tests
  • Blood tests to check for infection or underlying health disorders

How Does an Allergy Test Work?

To test for allergies, healthcare providers typically use the skin prick test. The test involves pricking the skin with a small amount of allergen to see if there’s a reaction. If a welt develops, an allergy is present.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Welts or hives can develop spontaneously and may go away over time. You may not ever get them again. Typically, you will not need to see a medical provider for an acute (temporary) case.

However, if you continuously break out into welts on your body or they are excessively itchy or painful, you should see your healthcare provider. Chronic welts may be caused by an underlying health issue that requires treatment.

Summary

Welts, also known as hives or wheals, are raised bumps on the skin. They can develop because of an allergic reaction, pressure on the area, an infection, or an underlying health disorder. In some cases, emotional stress and certain medications can bring on a bout of welts.

When you develop welts on your body often or more than once, it’s best to see your healthcare provider. Different causes will require various treatments, so getting a proper diagnosis is vital to manage the welts and your overall health properly. 

A Word From Verywell

Welts can be unsightly and uncomfortable, but they aren’t always a cause for concern. Typically, they develop because of mild irritations, injuries, or allergies. If you develop welts regularly, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

While most welt cases aren’t harmful, they can indicate a health issue. You want to be safe regarding your health, and seeing someone for your welts may help you find treatment for a disorder you are unaware you even have.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are welts hives?

    No, but welts and hives present the same on the skin. They appear as raised bumps that can be skin-colored, red, or pink. Typically, they are itchy. If an injury occurs causing the welt, there may also be pain in the area.

  • What causes welts?

    Several things can cause welts to develop on the skin. Allergic reactions may be the most common cause. However, welts can also develop because of injuries, infections, or underlying health disorders. In some cases, the cause of the welts is unknown.

  • Can you treat welts at home?

    If you know the cause of your welts and it’s nothing serious, you can treat them at home using a cold compress and anti-itch lotion such as calamine lotion. Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription antihistamines may also keep welts at bay if an allergic reaction causes them. Before starting at-home treatment, contact your healthcare provider to ensure there is no underlying health issue to blame for your welts.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.