Dermatographism is a skin disorder which is also referred to as ‘skin writing’. When individuals affected by this disorder scratch their skin even slightly, the areas on the skin attain a reddish hue and develop into elevated wheals that look like hives. The skin marks generally tend to fade away after about half an hour.
Doctors are not aware of the exact causes of dermatographism. It can however arise or get activated due to stress or other emotional upheavals, different kinds of infections, or intake of certain drugs like penicillin. Since it is a mild condition, most patients often do not go for treatment. Doctors may sometimes prescribe Benadryl or other such allergy medications if the signs and symptoms cause a lot of discomfort.
Some of the signs and symptoms of dermatographism are listed below:
- Skin inflammation and swelling
- Elevated reddish lines on skin
- Formation of welts similar to hives
The symptoms typically develop a few minutes after a patient has scratched or rubbed his/her skin. They clear on their own within half an hour. This is the most prevalent form of dermatographism.
In rare cases, certain other forms of dermatographism can result in gradual formation of welts and cause pain and burning sensations in the affected areas. Such symptoms tend to last for many hours or even some days.
Dermatographism is usually a harmless condition. It does not result in lasting scars or marks, and generally causes just mild symptoms.
It may be noted that about 25 to 50 percent of healthy individuals may develop a white line followed by a reddish line along with mild swelling of a specific skin area when it is subjected to scratching or firm stroking. The adjacent skin areas may also experience some kind of minor reddening and flaring. Around five percent of the global population tend to suffer from such exaggerated skin response and they are said to be affected by dermatographism.
The skin condition by itself can be persistent and last for several months or years.However in most cases, the condition tends to clear off in a year or two. Patients will experience a substantial reduction in the formation of welts as well as in the intensity of accompanying symptoms.
Dermatographism can occur at any age. However, it is commonly found in young adults and teenagers.
The exact cause of dermatographism is not known. Researchers think that the condition may be triggered by an allergen; however no such causative allergens have been found as yet.
Some of the risk factors which can increase the vulnerability or trigger an episode of dermatographism are mentioned below:
- In some persons, the disorder can arise due to contact with extreme temperatures, both cold and hot. The symptoms usually tend to aggravate in hot environments such as after taking a warm bath.
- Skin breakouts can also occur due to simple variations in the temperature and other kinds of environmental factors.
- The underlying presence of other skin diseases like dermatitis or dry skin can also pose greater threat to development of dermatographism. Any skin disorder that results in an elevated desire to scratch may increase the susceptibility.
- Mild pressure from being seated for long periods or from clothing, clapping of the hands, using different tools, or even frenetic kissing can trigger a bout of wheals.
- The skin welts can also form after exercising if it involves pressure or knocks on the skin. For example, in boxing, rugby, football, or wresting.
- Rubbing of the skin against bed sheets or clothes, rigorous toweling after a bath, as well as wearing constricted apparels, skintight watch straps or jewelry can also trigger an adverse response.
- Presence of an underlying infection or intake of certain medications like penicillin, etc.
- Research has indicated that certain nervous factors are also involved in development of dermatographism. Episodes of itchiness and subsequent formation of wheals due to scratching to alleviate the itchiness, tend to occur at regular intervals in people who experience frequent bouts of emotional agitation, excessive stress, and worrying situations.
Most patients affected by dermatographism tend to be healthy. In some cases, they may suffer from thyroid disorders.
It has been found that after the formation of initial wheals, scratching it can cause them to spread to nearby skin areas. Most wheals tend to affect just the skin surface. However, some may have deeper extensions and can result in formation of large wheals.
Hereditary factors have also been found to be associated with dermatographism.
It is generally not essential to treat dermatographism as the symptoms tend to disappear on their own. In case the symptoms cause discomfort, then doctors may prescribe antihistamine drugs like fexofenadine, Benadryl, or cetirizine.
Patients may follow the below listed self-care guidelines to alleviate the discomfort and prevent the onset of symptoms:
- Do not scratch the skin to find relief from itchiness caused by dermatographism or other skin diseases.
- Prevent skin irritation by avoiding the use of woolen apparels or those made from itchy fabrics, harsh soaps, and hot baths.
- Drink lots of water and remain hydrated
- Dry skin tends to be itchy. Hence, regularly moisturize the skin with creams and lotions.