Overview

Dermatographia is a condition also known as skin writing. When people who have dermatographia lightly scratch their skin, the scratches redden into a raised wheal similar to hives. These marks usually disappear within 30 minutes.

The cause of dermatographia is unknown, but it can be triggered in some people by infections, emotional upset or medications such as penicillin.

Most people who have dermatographia don't seek treatment. If your signs and symptoms are especially bothersome, your doctor may recommend allergy medications such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dermatographia may include:

  • Raised red lines
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Hive-like welts
  • Itching

The signs and symptoms may occur within a few minutes of your skin being rubbed or scratched and usually disappear within 30 minutes. Rarely, dermatographia develops more slowly and lasts several hours to several days.

The condition itself can last for months or years.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if your signs and symptoms are particularly bothersome.

Causes

The exact cause of dermatographia isn't clear. It may be caused by an allergic response, yet no specific allergen has been identified.

Simple things can trigger symptoms of dermatographia. For example, rubbing from your clothes or bedsheets may irritate your skin. Sometimes, dermatographia is preceded by an infection, emotional upset or medications, such as penicillin.

Risk factors

Dermatographia can occur at any age, but it tends to be more common in teenagers and young adults. If you have other skin conditions, such as dry skin or dermatitis, you may be more susceptible to dermatographia. Any skin condition that causes a frequent urge to scratch may increase your risk.

Prevention

To reduce discomfort and prevent the symptoms of dermatographia, try these tips:

  • Avoid irritating your skin. Refrain from using harsh soaps on your skin. Don't wear clothing made of itchy material, such as wool. Hot showers or baths may worsen the symptoms.
  • Don't scratch your skin. If you have dermatographia or other skin conditions that may cause frequent itching, try to avoid scratching your skin. Scratching will aggravate the condition.
  • Keep your skin moisturized. Dry skin tends to make skin itchy. Keep your skin moisturized by using lotions and creams after bathing.
Sept. 04, 2015
References
  1. Dice JP, et al. Physical urticarias. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 16, 2015.
  2. Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Urticaria and angioedema. In: Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Aug. 16, 2015.
  3. Adkinson NF, et al. Urticaria and angioedema. In: Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 16, 2015.
  4. Amin P, et al. Investigation of patient-specific characteristics associated with treatment outcomes for chronic urticaria. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice. 2015;3:400.