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Dermographism - or Skin Writing

Morning Flight (Dance of the Sea) - by Flynn the Cat
What is dermographism? Dermographism is a form of physical urticaria (allergic hives caused by physical contact) that is both unusual, idiopathic ('we haven't a clue what caused this') and incredibly frustrating to live with. It turns the sufferers into walking graffiti, their skin a testament and record of every tree branch that scrapes them gently, or rough handshake, that slap on the arm, each casual scratch, when they leant their face on their hand too long, or wore a watch... And behind the public markings, the magazine cover of your body, are the private diaries recorded in skin as one undresses (or just afterwards, as the pressure is relieved), and the inward curl of hands and feet after you walk on rocks or open doors. Disfigurement.

Dermographism is drawing on yourself in lectures and watching the words and pictures grow out of your skin - and then it is the burning and the itching as you sit there trying not to move, and not to scratch because it won't make it go away and if you scratch you'll be trapped in a vicious cycle. It is thinking you have nits because your head is itching, and never finding them; it is never running in bare feet because the gravel bites and you can't scratch at the hard soles of your feet. Dermographism is a fear of leaning back on your chair. Ubiquitous uniqueness.

Dermographism is an addiction to antihistamines. A fear of being without them. Antiantihistaminaphobia. Dermographism is hurting and trying not to complain because the complaints will be constant. Dermographism is a fear of door handles, especially stiff ones that require you to lean and push. Dermographism is people worrying and fussing when you hadn't even noticed the red marks all over your face. Dermographism is a lot of explanations.

Dermographism is unbearable. Dermographism is art and mutation. Pain and fascination. Skin writing. Urticaria. Paper skin. Lumps and hives and lines, white on red. Pale red marks, no matter how many pills you take. Idiosyncracy, over reaction. An immune system that fights the world, and you're not sure which is losing.

That is dermographism to me.

More medically and factually - dermatographic urticaria is a form of contact allergy in which your skin over reacts to touch. Pressure creates hives, in the shape of that pressure. What it is caused by varies depending on who you ask - it has been put in the too-hard basket by most of the medical community, although it's an accepted condition (and has been around for a long time!). It may be triggered by an allergic event (such as a bee sting), or antibiotics (for ear infections or after surgery). These somehow shock your immune system and/or stomach and cause you to over-react to certain foods or substances.

The russian baby Ali Yakubov may suffer from dermographism. This woman's daughter had it appear one day. Most people haven't heard of it, and most people who suffer from it have trouble finding out what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it. It's even harder trying to explain what it is like to live with.


Jul 13, 2010 4:14am
Fabulous article -- I have contact allergies from certain substances, and so I can somewhat imagine what it must be like. I wish you well and thank you for bringing this unusual condition to everyone's attention.
Jul 15, 2010 9:12pm
My daughter, 16, just got diagnosed with Dermographism. I have never heard of it and am having a hard time finding info on it. I know what it is...I can see it on her skin...Im trying to find out info on what prescriptions might help, creams, does it go away??? Any suggestions on a good website?
Wonderful article!!
Jul 15, 2010 9:36pm
Hi Clisis - most of what I know, I researched myself, and most of that is up here http://www.squidoo.com/dermographism (still adding as I find more, and there are links to other sites on there - most information is from people who have it posting and saying 'this is what happened to me...')
It's basically the body over-reacting, but 'why' is the big question! It's an allergic reaction, so can usually be controlled by anti-histamines, but the actual cause seems to be a bit complicated. There does seem to be a link between the digestive system (e.g. strong antibiotics destroy the stomach cultures, body becomes over-sensitive) and a few - very few, as everyone's trying different things - have reported cures through cleansing and 'resetting' their bodies (detox diets). It seems to be linked to various immune disorders, but the ONLY thing I know for sure is that anti-histamines helped me (also moving house away from the dust mites and the pollen! but that didn't fix it).

Creams are no good, because they only help after the reaction, they don't stop new welts. It can go away - some people only have it a few months, but it lasts for years in other people.
Jul 15, 2010 9:37pm
(Ah, drat, too fast) ... and thank you! I'm glad this helps at all.
Oct 5, 2010 8:50am
I have found this site to be a breath of fresh air. Hello to you all !! I have suffered from dermographism for over 20 years, the last 17 being without reprieve and with a drawer full of antihistamines. I have spent many nights scratching, burning, crying and thinking ... "What the hell is wrong with me?" I have tried so many different ideas (diet - I abstained from dairy, caffine, alcohol, meat, wheat, spices and more to boot for 6 weeks) I have tried a variety of shampoos, detergents, omitting perfumes etc, to no avail. Here I am, 44 and still scratching and burning. It wakes me up, it stops me getting to sleep, it stops me socialising. It is the oddest thing, and trying to explain to my family, my friends, the dr, my collegues is nearly impossible. How the heck to get any of them to understand the intensity. And then last night I found this sight and I read and I cried. I was so relieved to know that there are people who really do understand. Who feel what I feel. I am onto my next crazy cure notion, and I will post back if any change but ... Thank you all for being here and I hope that something miraculous happens to you all to make your dermographism go away .... p.s a short term quick fix ... carry a "Witch Stick" in your pocket. Apply whenever you need (instant relief as is a bottle of witch hazel in the fridge to slather on, or calomine)
Aug 15, 2011 1:56pm
I have had hives now for three weeks and it has prompted me to read more about this condition. I read a lot about dermographic urticaria and decided to test out my theory, as every time my arm got scratched (or any other place on my body) welts and weals would appear. I tested it out by lightly scratching the inside of my arm in a straight line. Low and behold, it popped up within 5 minutes. 15 minutes later, it is just starting to disappear. I'm 25 years old and after reading the above posts, I am nervous and horrified at the idea that this may last my whole life. I feel like crying., Correction: I am crying.
Jan 4, 2012 3:44pm
Hi Flynn

Thanks for posting the article, it's very good, particularly "living with dermographism". I actually never realised I feared being without antihistamines, but your right.

Firstly, let me say that I have had this now for 6 years and my story in pretty standard, so I won't repeat it :)

My interest is purely investigation with a view of finding out more about it. I think this can only be done by those who suffer from it. Although I have resigned to having this for life, I would like to try to do something about it. I don't think there are enough people affected to Interest the medical community or companies. I also Think (after reading a number of medical reports online") that there is insufficient information from sufferers for any qualified person to work with.

I personally do not think it is a skin disorder, rather a neurological (stress) or immune system issue that manifests itself as a skin disorder. Eating, or not eating certain foods only improves things slightly (at least for me) and the same goes for drinking.

Anyway, the purpose of this message is to see if anybody is interested in looking into this further, as a group. I'm particularly interested in what triggers it, for me it was stress directly, whilst in my mid twenties. It would also be good to see if there is any link to other drugs, such as antibiotics (i took vast amounts of antibiotics as a youngster through illness). This and any other information that may be relevant will all help toward building a picture. If I/we can get together enough information from those who suffer from this it may help pin pointing a potential cause and reason that will give those qualified something to work with.

Does anyone agree and is anyone interested?

Alex :)
Apr 27, 2012 7:22pm
I'd love to help you gather information in order to get to the root cause of Dermographism. Please let me know your ideas/thoughts.
Jan 1, 2013 10:24pm
Hi Alex, count me in.
Apr 27, 2012 7:18pm
In the early 1990's I was working for a very abusive and demanding woman (who brought back to me the same feelings/emotions I had experienced as a child who had no power and was being severely abused) and I suddenly started feeling intense heat on several parts of my body and seeing scratch marks that would suddenly appear that I did not make on my body. These marks looked as if they had come from the inside of my body. My co-workers and friends immediately named the condition "Poltergeist." We all joked and laughed about it...even though deep down inside I was mortified!

I went to see my family physician who referred me to an allergist who referred me to a dermatologist and no one could give me a name for what this was. I was only told to take anti-histamines and to apply topical cream to help with the burning and itching.

For the past 20 years, I have had times where this condition subsided. However, whenever something stressful has come into my life - it appears again.

Not only is this condition painful and itchy, but it's very embarrassing. Strangers have asked me "What happened to your face/neck/arms/legs (whatever part of my body that the marks have appeared on)?" They always look very concerned. Sometimes it appears on my face or neck when I'm giving a presentation or I am speaking in front of others.

I related my onset to extreme stress and basically a re-experience of childhood trauma. I also notice that the more stress that I'm under, the more sting, more heat, more itching, and a brighter red color is associated.

I have always used hyperallergenic lotions. I do not wear perfume. I try to never touch my skin unless I have to. However, my clothing, other people's touch (babies, children, friends), holding onto books, etc. can put marks on my body instantaneously.

Some of the websites show beautiful artwork that people make on their skin and I think that this downplays the condition as not being serious, painful and embarrassing. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that there are creative people who can use their pain in a positive way and turn it into something beautiful (so I am not bashing those artists). I just want the viewers/readers who have no idea what Dermographism is, to know that this is not a "fun" skin condition to have.
Jan 1, 2013 10:42pm
I also have this condition. This article clearly describes what I go through every day. I try not to complain about it in front of my family or friends, and I attempt to live with it ... making a tablet of levocetirizine 5mg part of my daily routine. So, after 3 years ... still in the battle
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