What is Dermatographia?

Also known as skin writing, dermatographia is a condition where scratches on the skin’s surface result in red marks, usually with raised welts. Even light scratches can cause severe marking but it usually is gone in about 30 minutes. It can be brought on by infections, medications, or emotional upset.

Many people who have dermatographia do not seek out treatment as it is not bothersome. It is not known why some people have dermatographia, while others do not.

What are the Symptoms of Dermatographia?

There is some variance in the symptoms of dermatographia but most people will experience red, raised lines when the skin is scratched. There may be swelling and inflammation. Scratches can become itchy and look similar to the welts created by hives. It can take as little as  a few minutes for symptoms to occur but they usually go away within 30 minutes or so. In more rare cases, symptoms can last from several hours to even days.

Dermatographia Causes

Although the causes of the condition are as yet unknown, it is generally agreed that dermatographia is an allergic reaction involving the release of the allergic antibodies IgE and, less commonly, IgM. Dermatographia may occur upon scratching, rubbing, pressure, or other irritations of the skin, even from simple activities such as tossing and turning in bed or exercises and sports involving rubbing or contact, like wrestling. Other triggers for dermatographia include stress, a history of allergies, infections, and certain medications including penicillin.

Known risk factors for dermatographia include dry skin, a history of dermatitis or skin inflammation, being a young adult, experiencing frequent scratches, thyroid disease, or a nerve disorder or internal illness which causes itchy skin. In addition to this, excessive heat or cold, vibration of the body, alcohol consumption, an unhealthy or unbalanced diet, chemicals which irritate the skin, and rigorous exercise may all exacerbate this condition.

How is Dermatographia Treated?

Dermatographia symptoms go away on their own most of the time so treatment is not always needed.

Treatment includes

If the condition becomes bothersome or is severe, antihistamines may be prescribed by doctors. Commonly, Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine) are suggested by doctors for the most troublesome cases of dermatographia.

Dermatographia Prevention

Avoiding the most direct causes of dermatographia – scratching, rubbing, and skin irritation – will prevent most inflammation incidents. Avoid using itchy clothing, bed sheets, and towels. Unscented laundry softener will help keep these items soft. Use fragrance-free soaps and lotions, as their scented counterparts’ added chemicals can contribute to dry, itchy skin. Take cool or lukewarm showers and baths. Apply skin moisturizer daily or as needed, especially right after bathing. Natural moisturizers, such as coconut oil or shea butter, are best. Use a humidifier during the dry, cool months.

Avoid eating foods associated with inflammation, such as red meat, processed meat, fried foods, refined carbohydrates like white bread, and sugary beverages. Eat non-inflammatory foods such as sea foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, leafy greens, including kale and spinach, tomatoes, olive oil, and fruits. Additionally, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.

Finally, utilizing stress management techniques may prevent episodes. Maintaining happiness, getting a full night’s sleep, and moderate exercise will help.

Last Reviewed:
October 05, 2016
Last Updated:
December 13, 2017
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