If a person comes into contact with a stinging nettle, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including a rash and itchy, irritated skin.
People will be able to treat most cases of stinging nettle rash with home treatments, which can usually relieve the symptoms within a few hours.
In some cases, stinging nettles may cause a severe allergic reaction, and a person will require immediate medical attention.
In this article, we look at the symptoms and at-home treatment of stinging nettle rash, as well as prevention tips and when to seek medical help.
Stinging nettles can cause a rash and other symptoms if people touch them. The reason for this is that stinging nettles contain fine hairs and chemicals that irritate human skin. One of these chemicals is formic acid, which causes the painful rash.
If people come into contact with stinging nettles, they may experience:
- a rash
- raised bumps
- spots lighter than the surrounding skin
- pain in the area of the sting
- irritated or itchy skin
In some cases, people may have a severe allergic reaction to a nettle sting. This complication can be life threatening and require immediate medical attention.
The symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
- trouble breathing
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling dizzy or faint
- increased heart rate
- tightness in the chest
- severe and rapid swelling around the face, mouth, or throat, or under the skin
- loss of coordination
- muscle weakness
- stomach pain
People should seek emergency treatment or call 911 in the case of any of these symptoms or a suspected severe allergic reaction.
People can treat stinging nettle rash by washing the affected area and the surrounding skin as soon as possible after coming into contact with the plant. Doing this helps remove chemicals and nettle hairs from the skin, which should ease the discomfort of the rash within a couple of hours.
It is best to use soap and water, but a clean, damp cloth will also work if running water is not available.
If people are still experiencing painful symptoms after cleaning the rash, they can try other treatments to help relieve irritation and soothe the rash.
For instance, they may try the traditional remedy of applying jewelweed or dock leaf to the rash. These plants usually grow in the same area as stinging nettles. Jewelweed has oval, green leaves with orange or yellow trumpet-shaped flowers.
A small 2012 study provided some scientific evidence to support the use of jewelweed as a treatment for stinging nettle rash. However, the study showed that soap was more effective than jewelweed.
Other remedies include:
- mixing baking soda with water to form a paste and applying it to the rash, or adding baking soda to a lukewarm bath
- applying a cool compress to the rash to soothe pain and irritation
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to relieve itching and reduce any swelling
- using OTC hydrocortisone creams to reduce inflammation
- taking OTC anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
- having cool or lukewarm baths and showers, taking care to avoid hot water coming into contact with the rash, as this could cause further irritation and pain
It is important to avoid scratching or rubbing the rash, as this could push the chemicals further into the skin, worsening the irritation.
Children may find it hard not to scratch or rub an itchy rash. Placing a loose dressing over the rash may help stop them from touching it.
People may also find it helpful to avoid wearing tight, restrictive clothing around the rash, which could irritate the skin further and increase itchiness. They should also take care to protect the rash from direct sunlight and avoid extreme heat.
The best way to prevent a stinging nettle rash is to avoid stinging nettles touching the skin. Recognizing the plant and teaching children how to distinguish it can help avoid stinging nettle rash.
If people want to clear stinging nettles from their backyard or local area, wearing thick, full length clothing and thick gardening gloves can help prevent stinging.
Those who work outdoors and are likely to come into contact with stinging nettles may wish to consider wearing protective gear to help avoid the plant brushing against bare skin and causing a rash.
Stinging nettle rashes can be painful and itchy, but they usually resolve within a few days. Home treatments, such as washing the area with soapy water and taking OTC pain relievers, may help ease the symptoms.
If people have severe, long lasting, or worsening symptoms, they can see their doctor. Anyone who has a severe allergic reaction to stinging nettles will need immediate medical care.