Dermographism (Dermatographic Urticaria)
Medically reviewed by The Dermatologists and written by Dr. Alexander Börve
- Often self-diagnosable
- Symptoms: Flare or welt, burning, itching
- Color: Typically red
- Location: Anywhere on the skin
- Treatment: No treatment necessary
Dermographism means “writing on the skin” and is a chronic form of urticaria (hives). This condition usually has no symptoms, and most people with dermographism are healthy. However, symptomatic dermographism may limit activity and thus reduce quality of life.
The chance of dermographism increases during pregnancy (especially in the second half), at the onset of menopause, in atopic children, and in patients with Behçet disease. Dermographism can appear in persons of any age but is more common in young adults, in their twenties and thirties.
When you lightly scratch or firmly stroke the skin, a red or white line appears. The initial line turns into a flare and will remain for about an hour. The welt can look similar to an allergic reaction, even though dermographism is a form of urticaria (hives). You may experience burning and itching at the affected areas. It may last for months or years, or be present intermittently.
Stress, insect bite, anxiety, and excessive heat or cold can trigger the condition. The use of drugs, such as penicillin, can also trigger such reaction.
What can I do?
Do not scratch or rub the skin and do not wear close-fitting clothes, as this may worsen the condition. Studies have reported the successful use of relaxation, hypnosis and a combination therapy of psychotropic drugs and antihistamines in patients with chronic urticaria.
Should I seek medical care?
Usually, medical care is not necessary. However, you should seek medical care if dermographism is significantly affecting your quality of life. A doctor can diagnose the condition with a tongue depressor across the skin of your arm or back to see if a red, swollen line or a welt (wheal) appears within a few minutes.
The swelling typically goes away within an hour. The condition does not need treatment, but antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fexofenadine (Allegra) or cetirizine (Zyrtec), can reduce inflammation.
Simone Laube, MD, MRCP. Dermographism Urticaria. Medscape. Available at: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1050294-overview#a6
Taşkapan O, Harmanyeri Y. Evaluation of patients with symptomatic dermographism. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16405609
Joanna Wallengren and Anders Isaksson. Urticarial Dermographism: Clinical Features and Response to Psychosocial Stress. Available at: http://www.medicaljournals.se/acta/content/?doi=10.2340/00015555-0306&html=1
Mayo Clinic. Dermatographia – Test and diagnosis. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dermatographia/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20025360
Ask a Dermatologist Now
Anonymous, fast and secure!
The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.