What is dermatographia?
Dermatographia is a common, benign (not harmful) skin condition. It causes you to develop raised marks (wheals) or a reaction similar to hives when you scratch your skin. Pressure or rubbing (friction) may also cause a reaction.
Dermatographism, dermatographic urticaria and skin writing are other names for dermatographia.
Who does dermatographia affect?
Dermatographia can affect anyone. However, you may be more likely to have dermatographia if:
You may also be more likely to have dermatographia if someone else in your family has it.
How common is dermatographia?
Dermatographia is common. It affects about 2% to 5% of the general population.
How does dermatographia affect my body?
Dermatographia welts don’t hurt, but they can be itchy. However, you may feel self-conscious or uncomfortable until it fades, usually after about 30 minutes.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of dermatographia?
Dermatographia symptoms vary from person to person. Your symptoms may include:
- Raised, discolored (red, pink, purple or the same color as your surrounding skin) lines.
- Hive-like welts.
- Itchy skin.
What is the cause of dermatographism?
Healthcare providers and medical researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes dermatographia.
Dermatographism causes may include:
Is dermatographia caused by stress?
Stress may cause or aggravate dermatographia. Reducing your stress may help prevent dermatographia flare-ups. Try the following tips to help reduce your stress:
- Count to 10 as you take a deep breath.
- Exercise daily.
- Drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
- Sleep eight hours a night.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Try to have a positive attitude.
- Journal every day.
- Talk about your life with friends, family and a therapist.
Is dermatographia an autoimmune disease?
Dermatographia may be an autoimmune disease. Healthcare providers and medical researchers think it might be an inappropriate response from your immune system. Your immune system registers scratching or pressure as an allergen. It sends the chemical histamine to the area to remove the allergen from your body.
Is dermatographia contagious?
No, dermatographia isn’t contagious. You can’t spread dermatographia to another person through skin-to-skin contact.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is dermatographia diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can diagnose dermatographia by agitating your skin. They’ll use a tongue depressor to scratch or press on the skin of your arm or back.
Dermatographia appears within five to seven minutes of agitation. The marks appear in the same direction and orientation as the agitation. It may look like someone wrote on your skin with a pen.
Management and Treatment
How do you get rid of dermatographia?
Symptoms of dermatographia are generally mild. They usually go away within 30 minutes.
If your dermatographia is more severe and lasts longer than 30 minutes, treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter antihistamine capsules that you swallow with water.
- Prescription cromolyn, which helps block allergic reactions.
- Moisturizers that you apply to your affected areas.
Severe dermatographia that doesn’t respond to the above therapies may be treated with a prescription biologic therapy, which is injected.
Decreasing your stress can also help you get rid of dermatographia. Relaxation activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation can help decrease your stress and prevent dermatographia.
What are the side effects of antihistamines?
Common antihistamine side effects may include:
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
Antihistamine capsules start taking effect about 30 minutes after you take them. They’re most effective after about two hours.
How can I reduce my risk of developing dermatographia?
The following can help reduce your risk of developing dermatographia:
- Avoid rubbing or scratching your skin.
- Wear loose clothing made from smooth materials that wick away moisture.
- Avoid itchy clothing, such as wool.
- Use a mild soap for your bath or shower, and pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it.
- Apply a moisturizing cream or ointment immediately after drying your skin to help seal in the moisture.
- Take baths or showers with lukewarm water, not hot water.
- Use a humidifier.
- Learn to recognize stress in your life and how to manage it.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have dermatographia?
Generally, dermatographia leaves no lasting marks, causing only minor, short-lived irritation and symptoms. The condition may last anywhere from months to years, or you may have it throughout your life.
There isn’t a cure, but for many, dermatographia goes away on its own in a year or two. Or it may grow milder over time so you don’t experience major symptoms.
How do I take care of myself if I have dermatographia?
If you have dermatographia, it can generally be well-managed with good skin care and treatment. It usually goes away within 30 minutes, and it isn’t dangerous. Most people don’t see their healthcare provider for treatment.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
See your healthcare provider if your dermatographia doesn’t go away within an hour, it appears with other symptoms or is painful.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- How can you tell that I have dermatographia?
- If I don’t have dermatographia, what other skin condition might I have?
- Is there a specific brand of moisturizer that you recommend?
- What soaps or lotions should I avoid?
- Is one of my medications causing dermatographia?
- Should I see a dermatologist or another specialist?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dermatographia is annoying, especially if it’s itchy, and it may even be embarrassing. However, it’s common and very normal, and it usually doesn’t affect your quality of life. With a proper skin care routine, stress management and treatment, you can reduce its impact. If you have any questions, your healthcare provider is there to help.
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