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Dermatographism is a skin condition that causes redness, inflammation, welts, and itching when the skin is exposed to pressure, rubbing, or scratching. This condition is also called skin writing, dermographia, or dermatographic urticaria.

Symptoms of Dermatographism

Dermatographism is a common, benign skin condition that is not transmissible or life-threatening. Signs of dermatographism can develop within minutes of skin irritation and typically resolve within half an hour. The symptoms of dermatographism include:

  • Raised, red marks on the skin
  • Hive-like welts
  • Itching
  • Swelling

The symptoms of dermatographism typically appear and resolve relatively quickly. However, patients can live with dermatographism for months to years.

Causes of Dermatographism

Dermatographism symptoms arise from abnormal levels of histamine release from mast cells (that belong to the immune system) within the skin. Although the specific causes of dermatographism are unknown, some common triggers include:

  • Allergic reactions: Dermatographism can be triggered by exposure to allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, or certain foods.
  • Stress: Emotional stress can trigger the release of histamine in the body, which can cause an allergic reaction and lead to dermatographism.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics, painkillers, or antidepressants, can cause dermatographism as a side effect.
  • Infections: Skin infections, such as bacterial or fungal infections, can trigger dermatographism.
  • Autoimmune disorders:Some autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or thyroid disease, can cause dermatographism as a symptom.
  • Hormonal changes:Dermatographism may be more common in women and may be triggered by hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menstruation.

A person with dermatographism may also have an external allergy, though this is uncommon.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dermatographism

At Frontier Allergy Asthma and Immunology, your physician can diagnose dermatographism by asking questions about your medical history and symptoms. Your physician may also perform a skin test with a tongue depressor to scratch or press on the skin over your arm or back. The area of the test will be observed closely for the next few minutes for welts, redness, itching, or raised marks. Dermatographism itself typically does not leave any lasting marks or scars, but excessive scratching due to possible itching may cause the skin to break. Your physician will likely recommend the daily use of non-allergic moisturizers or a daily antihistamine to curb the symptoms of dermatographism.


Who does dermatographia affect?

  • Dermatographia can affect people of any age, gender, or race. However, it is more commonly seen in younger people, particularly those under the age of 30. Dermatographia can occur in individuals with a history of allergies, eczema, or other skin conditions. It can also occur in otherwise healthy individuals with no known underlying medical conditions. Women are more likely than men to develop dermatographism, and it may be more common in those who have a family history of the condition.

How common is dermatographia?

  • It is estimated that up to 5% of the population may have dermatographism at some point in their lives.

How does dermatographia affect my body?

  • Dermatographia welts do not hurt, but they can be itchy and uncomfortable. Although most dermatographia will fade in 30 minutes to a few hours, you may feel flustered or uneasy until the marks disappear.

Is dermatographia caused by stress?

  • Stress may exacerbate dermatographia. Avoiding stress wherever possible helps to prevent dermatographia.

Is dermatographia contagious?

  • No, dermatographia isn’t contagious. You can’t spread dermatographia to another person through direct contact or by sharing personal items (unless the item has been contaminated from your skin.)

How is dermatographia diagnosed?

  • Your healthcare provider can diagnose dermatographia by writing on your skin. They’ll use a tongue depressor to write or press on the skin of your arm or back. Dermatographia will carry the physical marks left behind in the same direction and orientation as the writing. It may look as if someone wrote a word on your arm with a pen!

Next steps

If you are interested in further discussion about your specific needs, Dr. Reshamwala is happy to see you and answer any questions you may have. Please call 512-382-1933 or email to schedule an appointment today! Book an appointment

Written by: Dr. Neha Reshamwala
NPI number: 1780874578
Page last reviewed: 03/20/21

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