Overview

Stinging nettle rash occurs when the skin comes into contact with stinging nettles. Stinging nettles are plants that are commonly found in many areas of the world. They have herbal properties and grow in the same places every year.

Both the stems and the leaves of stinging nettles are covered by structures that look like hairs but are delicate and hollow. These “hairs” act like needles when they come into contact with the skin. Chemicals flow through them into the skin, which causes a stinging sensation and a rash.

The chemicals released by stinging nettles include:

  • histamine
  • acetylcholine
  • serotonin
  • leukotrienes
  • moroidin

Picture of stinging nettle rash

stinging nettle rash

Symptoms of rash

Stinging nettle rash presents as raised bumps or hives that are often light in color and up to a centimeter in diameter. The skin surrounding the hives may be red. The area of the skin that’s affected depends upon how much of the skin has come into contact with the stinging nettles.

A stinging sensation is usually felt upon contact with the nettles. Afterward, the rash commonly feels itchy.

In rare cases, some people may have an allergic reaction to stinging nettles. In these cases, medical attention should be sought immediately as this can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to stinging nettles are:

  • tightness in the chest or throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • swelling in the mouth, including the tongue or lips
  • a rash in areas that haven’t come into contact with the nettles (this can be all over the body)
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Treating the rash at home

If there is no allergic reaction, there are many methods that can be used at home to help relieve the symptoms of stinging nettle rash.

Immediate treatment

It’s important to try not to touch the rash for the first 10 minutes after receiving the sting. This is because if the chemicals are allowed to dry on the skin, they’re easier to remove.

Any touching or rubbing could push the chemicals deeper into the skin and cause the reaction to be more severe and last longer.

After 10 minutes, use soap and water to wash away the chemicals from the surface of the skin. This can often be enough to greatly reduce or completely remove any pain, itching, or swelling. A clean cloth can be used, if you aren’t close to soap and water, until the area can be cleaned properly.

After cleaning, use a sturdy tape to remove any remaining fibers from the skin. If the tape isn’t effective enough, you can try a wax strip hair-removal product.

Longer-term relief

If you take the measures described above, then you’ll usually get relief quickly. But sometimes the effects of the sting can last for up to 24 hours.

For relief during this time, try using the juices from a dock plant or a jewelweed plant. Both of these plants can usually be found in the same areas as stinging nettles.

Dock plant leaves are big, oval in shape, and have rounded tips and wavy edges. The lower leaves have red stems. If you crush some of the leaves and apply them to the skin, it can provide relief. There is no scientific evidence to support this practice, but it’s been widely used as a treatment for stinging nettle rash for hundreds of years.

Avoid hot temperatures and scratching, as these can further irritate the area.

You can apply cool compresses for relief. You can also try aloe vera and a paste made from baking soda and water. Anything that you put on the skin should be dabbed, not rubbed.

Other treatments

Topical creams, lotions, or ointments that contain hydrocortisone can feel soothing and may help to relieve the redness and itching.

Oral antihistamines can also be effective at relieving the itching as they counteract the reaction that your body is having. You may also want to give these natural antihistamines a try.

If the rash is painful, then you can take anti-inflammatory pain medications.

Are there complications?

If the rash doesn’t disappear within 24 hours, you may be having a severe reaction.

The rash isn’t contagious, but it can be extremely uncomfortable if the reaction is severe. Scratching can also lead to infection of the area, which will require further treatment.

An allergic reaction to one of the chemicals in the stinging nettle is the most severe complication of stinging nettle rash and can be life-threatening.

How long does it last?

In normal circumstances, stinging nettle rash should disappear within 24 hours.

The takeaway

If you experience any of the symptoms of an allergic reaction, immediate medical help is warranted.

You should also seek medical attention if:

  • a large area of your body is covered by the rash
  • your symptoms don’t improve within 24 hours
  • the area looks infected

Prevention tips

The best way to prevent stinging nettle rash is to familiarize yourself with what the plants look like and take measures to avoid coming into contact with them. Wearing long sleeves and long pants can help.