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What on earth is a skin wheal? Learn what skin wheals are, what causes them, what the symptoms look (and feel) like, and how you can treat them if they appear.

What Is a Skin Wheal?

A skin wheal is a patch on the skin that is elevated, discolored, changes shape, and often itches. It can be due to an insect bite, an adverse reaction to something that touched your skin, eczema, or another small puncture wound you experienced. You may have also heard a skin wheal referred to as a ‘welt’ or a ‘hive.

‘ Skin wheals often change shape and color rapidly, so let’s look into their formation in a bit more detail.

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Skin Wheal Formation

How do skin wheals form? Let’s use an insect bite as an example, since I’m sure many of you have experienced a mosquito or spider bite at one point in time or another. Right after the bite occurs, a small red spot appears on the skin and the area begins to swell and elevate around the bite. Soon, the color changes and becomes deeper and more extreme in color (whether that color is red, white, or purple). As the wheal grows in size, it may become sensitive to the touch and may begin to hurt or itch, especially when pressure is applied to the area. If a treatment exists and is applied, eventually the swelling will subside and the color will return to normal as the wound heals. Wheals are temporary in nature, and as healing takes place, they will disappear on their own.

Causes

So what exactly causes skin wheals? Unfortunately, wheals occur in response to some type of stimulus and there are a number of causes. Food allergies can cause skin wheals (the most common foods to blame are milk, fish, and shellfish). Insect bites can also cause wheals, either due to the irritation of the skin’s surface or because of venom. Additionally, reactions to medications can result in skin wheals, as can reactions to stress. Sun sensitivity and severe sunburn can cause skin wheals as well.

Treatments

Treating a skin wheal depends on the cause. However, one of the best treatments is to leave the area alone! (I know, easier said than done.

) Any kind of irritation can make the wheal worse and can actually increase the itchiness or discomfort. Topical ointments or gels may reduce symptoms and increase healing time. In situations where the wheal does not heal on its own, it may be necessary to see a doctor for further diagnosis. For instance, long-term reddened, inflamed patches of skin called plaques could be the culprit, and these can be stubbornly persistent and itchy.

Lesson Summary

Let’s recap what we’ve learned about skin wheals.

Skin wheals are elevated, discolored, and sometimes itchy patches that develop on the skin’s surface. They can be caused by allergic reactions, insect bites, or sensitivity to some external stimulus.Skin wheals change color and shape quickly and usually go away on their own.

However, there are treatment options to address the side effects, which often include itchiness. If the wheal doesn’t heal on its own, it may be necessary to see a doctor for treatment. A good rule of thumb to follow is to leave it alone! Any further irritation can cause symptoms to get worse and prolong the skin wheal’s presence.

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