Also known as Dermatographic urticaria, Dermatographism, Dermographia or Dermatographia and commonly called “skin writing”.

I’ve had Dermographism for as long as I can remember.  So I was either born with it (most likely) or developed it in infancy.  I had absolutely no idea that other people didn’t have it until I was 45 years old because it had always been normal for me.  How crazy is that?

According to Wikipedia: Dermographism is “thought to be caused by mast cells in the surface of the skin releasing histamines without the presence of antigens, due to the presence of a weak membrane surrounding the mast cells. The histamines released cause the skin to swell in the affected areas.  This weak membrane easily and rapidly breaks down under physical pressure causing an allergic-like reaction, in general a red weal (welt) to appear on the skin. It can often be confused with an allergic reaction to the object causing the scratch, when in fact it is the act of being scratched that causes a weal to appear. These weals are a subset of urticaria (hives) that appear within minutes, in some cases accompanied by itching. The first outbreak of urticaria can lead to others on body parts not directly stimulated, scraped, or scratched. In a normal case, the swelling will decrease with no treatment within 15–30 minutes, but, in extreme cases, itchy red welts may last anywhere from a few hours to days.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself 😉

I develop dermographism when I’m scratched, or sometimes when my skin is subjected to pressure.  I cope with pressure better than scratching and can wear elasticated clothing and socks without problems, so long as they’re not too tight.  My biggest issue in respect of pressure are the braces I use for my joints.  They have to be tight in order to support the joint but on the whole they’re simply too tight for my mast cells and cause welts to develop.  The welts itch me like a son-of-a-bitch and of course if I scratch the scratch itself becomes a welt.  Joint braces = histamine hell.

Scratches on my skin cause my dermographism to go bonkers but, unlike the welts caused by pressure, these welts don’t itch.  It’s bizarre.  I thought I’d demonstrate my dermographism by scratching the word “hi” on my arm with the end of a pen.  Here’s the instantaneous result:

Photo of Dermographism on the armI’ve never timed how long it took for the hives to go down, so as an experiment here’s the dermographism after 2 hours:

Photo of dermographism on the armAnd again after 4 hours:

Photo of dermographism on the armAfter 7 hours the swelling had gone but the red mark of the word “hi” was still there when I went to bed that night (though had gone by the next morning).  As I said though, no itching and luckily the hives are always contained to the area of the scratch and don’t seem to set off any kind of histamine chain-reaction elsewhere, yayyy!

My dermographism isn’t confined to pressure and scratching though.  When I had a 24 hour heart monitor done in 2014 I had to wear pads stuck on my skin with electrodes attached to them.  My skin can be iffy when it comes to glue (some plasters and tapes make me itch like mad) and this was the reaction to one of the pads on my chest:

Photo of dermographismThe itching nearly drove me to distraction and, not only was there an oval shaped hive from the pad, but weird criss-cross hives all the way round it too – no clue what they were, but oh boy was I glad to get those damned things off me!

I don’t take any kind of medication for my dermographism.  I scrape my skin 10 times a day (being thin-skinned due to EDS) but luckily the scratches don’t itch so I feel no need to treat them with anything.  It would be great to be able to wear proper joint braces but, as I’m allergic to anti-histamines, taking daily medication to counter-act the pressure hives isn’t really an option.  So I just don’t wear anything tight – problem solved 🙂

I wish I’d known a very, very long time ago that dermographism is an indicator of Mast Cell Disease.  Mine is classed as fairly severe and unusual that it presented from early child-hood.  Obviously as MCAD is now linked to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and EDS is present from birth I personally feel my MCAD has also been present from birth and simply worsened in middle age as did my EDS – it’s no coincidence that my MCAD exploded less than 2 years after my EDS exploded.  Other people, however, acquire dermographism in later life and of course not all people with dermographism have EDS.

I wish I’d known as a kid that my skin wasn’t like everyone else’s.  I could have added Skin Etch-a-sketch to my list of party tricks and I’m sure when I was 9 that would have been super cool.  Not so cool though to have thong induced hives up the crack in my arse.  Who the hell invented thongs anyway – they’re like dental floss for your butt! 😉

5 thoughts on “Dermographism

  1. artfulblasphemer

    I have really similar issues with splints–if they are tight enough to work, they cause hives and itching, and if I leave them on too long, I develop open sores. I had a similar reaction to a Holter Monitor recently–took DAYS for the electrode damage to ease up. What I don’t have is the hives from “writing” on my skin–but everything else, including periodic outbreaks of hives (on my fanny and legs) for no apparent reason–I’ve got it.


  2. Glo

    Ha ha! Thongs have to be one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever tried wearing. As far as my dermagaphism it was dismissed by do tors for years. I’d have an itch and scratch. People would say my god! What happened to you? I was the same as you and replied that just happens when I scratch. My skins just sensitive. When they tried allergy testing using the graph system on my back it was completely useless as I hived up everywhere they touched. Have learned all these things I thought were my own special weirdness are actually something and I’m not just odd or crazy. Food control helps a lot but is so hard to deal with. Had a food binge this weekend as I was house sitting and was thoughtfully left with just about everything I shouldn’t eat. Yes I could have bought my own food but sometimes I just break down. Haven’t found anything that nearly kills me yet but it can screw up my body and brain for days. Try explaining this to people and you get the look. The crazy person look. This food was left by someone who has been told repeatedly about my mcad but chooses not to believe me. It’s like when they used to tell women that pms and cramps were just in their heads. Very frustrating. In the past I’ve quit smoking and drugs. Hard to do yeah? But I just can’t resist foods that I know are bad for me. Especially when so readily available. I hope to gain some discipline and will power in this. Any advice appreciated. At home I’m pretty good about it. It’s just going out that’s hard and I’m already pretty much a hermit since I’m very introverted. Trying not to scratch myself to bits as I’m typing this. Another thing that brings out hives like crazy. A nice hot bath or shower. 😦


    1. Jak Post author

      Hot baths make me itch too Glo so I empathise. They’re the only thing which eases my pain though, so I put up with the itching for the pain relief!

      I don’t have any tips on how to give up yummy food. In my early days of MCAD eating made me pass out, so I was so petrified of dying giving up histamine foods wasn’t that difficult if I’m honest. But now my reactions have settled I do cheat, especially around my period when I have powerful food cravings. Having said all that, I ate a cream cake last week from the deli and within 10 mins my throat was itching me stupid – which carried on for 3 days. It won’t be hard not to eat a strawberry slice again 😉

      I know the ‘crazy person’ look – if I had a pound for every time a Doctor has given me that I’d be rich!



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