Dermatographia, or skin writing, is a hive-type reaction that results from lightly stroking or scratching the skin. Also known as dermatographic urticaria, this condition affects approximately 5 percent of the population.

Understanding Dermatographia

Typically, individuals with dermatographia develop wheals within 15 minutes of skin contact. Symptoms usually persist for a period of 15 to 30 minutes, but in severe cases, large wheals develop and swelling may be present for hours to days.

Causes of Dermatographia

It is not known why some people develop dermatographia, but the condition is more common in teens and young women. Cases of dermatographia have been linked to infections, certain medications and emotional stress. Those with skin conditions that increase the desire to scratch, such as dermatitis, are more likely to develop dermatographia.

Symptoms of Dermatographia

Wheals associated with dermatographia typically develop shortly after skin contact, but in some cases symptoms are delayed. Symptoms vary, but include:

  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Puffy red lines
  • Itching

Usually symptoms resolve within 30 minutes although, in rare cases, swelling may persist for days. Individuals that develop dermatographia may struggle with the condition for years.

Diagnosing Dermatographia

Because symptoms usually resolve quickly, few individuals with dermatographia are seen in a dermatology clinic. However, those who experience persistent or repeated symptoms are usually diagnosed when a dermatologist observes skin response after moderate pressure is applied in the form of a scratch or stroke.

Treatment of Dermatographia

Most patients with dermatographia require no treatment, although they may be advised to avoid scratching and other physical stimuli known to produce symptoms. Staying well hydrated and using a good skin moisturizer is also advised.

If treatment is needed, antihistamines may be beneficial and your dermatologist may also suggest light therapy for temporary relief.

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