What is Dermatographia?

Dermatographia is a skin condition in which friction, or even the slightest scratch on the skin surface, can cause raised irritated marks. The name dermatographia stems from dermat (skin) and graphia (writing an image).

While the condition is not considered serious, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to live with hypersensitive skin. This condition is found in roughly five percent of the US population. 

What Causes Dermatographia?

The causes of dermatographia are unknown, though many experts believe it is related to allergies and potentially a genetic condition.

The skin irritation and swelling of dermatographia is from damage to the immune cells, which release histamine causing the raised and reddened skin reaction. The swelling of the skin is a reaction to dilating blood vessels and fluid leaking our of the permeable capillaries. The skin cells become overly sensitive to such minor injuries as scratching or applying pressure. The resulting marks on the skin look similar to hives, and can itch in the same way as well.

Adults in their twenties are more likely to develop dermatographia.

What Are the Symptoms of Dermatographia?

The symptoms of dermatographia are:

  • Swelling of the skin
  • Red marks where the skin has been scratched or felt pressure
  • Heat
  • Itching
  • Inflammation
  • Welts similar to hives

Triggers of the symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Pressure on the skin
  • Rubbing against objects or even clothes
  • Scratches from objects
  • Exposure to heat or cold
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Physical stress
  • Emotional stress
  • Allergens

Symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, and in severe cases the symptoms may last several days. Additional symptoms for long lasting swelling can include pain or burning. This can lead to a disruption in every day activities.

Chronic dry skin and dermatitis may increase the risk of dermatographia.

Being Diagnosed With Dermatographia:

When the symptoms first arrive, many patients may believe they are a result of simple allergies and therefore may ignore them.

If the symptoms persist, a dermatologist can run a simple test of dragging a tongue depressor across the skin while applying light pressure. If a line of welt results, it is possible that you have dermatographia and your doctor may start treatment with anti-histamines.

Often skin allergy tests are run to rule out other potential irritations. Keeping a trigger diary of when the symptoms arise can be helpful.

What is the Treatment for Dermatographia?

There are not many treatment options available for dermatographia. Typically, people with dermatographia will be given anti-histamines or steroids to help control or reduce symptoms. These drugs can help block histamine release via the immune system, but they are in no way a cure.

Seek additional treatment from a dermatologist if the symptoms become severe and cause pain.

In some patients with dermatographia, the condition subsides on its own. For others, it can last years. Studies have not determined what causes this difference in patients.

Living With Dermatographia:

Living with dermatographia can be difficult but manageable. There are certain steps you can take to help prevent flares.

  • Avoid heavy physical activities
  • Avoid known common allergens fur, insect stings, dust, mold, pollen)
  • Avoid scratching your skin
  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Keep the skin moisturized with lotion

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Allergies Resources

Chronic Illness Resources

How To Help A Friend With Chronic Illness

Stress Resources

Additional Resources:

Mayo Clinic offers information on dermatographia among many other medical conditions.

You Beauty offers an article about Ariana Page Russell, an artist with dermatographia who uses her condition to create body art.