What is Skin Writing Disease?

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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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People who notice raised, red welts on their skin when pressure is applied to it may suffer from a condition known as skin writing disease. Also called dermographism or dermatographism, it is a non-contagious disorder that is a form of urticaria, or hives. Any type of pressure to the skin, from stroking to scratching, can trigger an outbreak, and the hives will typically follow the pattern of the pressure, making it possible to write recognizable figures like words or numbers on the skin. The hives arise due to the release of histamine in the skin, though the underlying cause of the disorder is unknown.

Though not considered dangerous or life-threatening, skin writing disease can be uncomfortable and unpleasant for patients with the disorder. In addition to hives, patients also usually experience severe itchiness and sometimes a burning sensation during a breakout; this can lead to a vicious cycle of scratching which then makes the welts worse. The condition can also be stressful and embarrassing if welts arise on the face and neck, particularly if they take a long time to clear up; skin may take anywhere from half an hour to days to go back to normal.


Just as there is no known cause for skin writing disease, there is also no known cure. Treatment for the disease is typically concentrated on reducing the symptoms by finding the right type and dosage of antihistamine for a patient. Other possible treatments can include phototherapy, or exposing the affected skin to controlled doses of ultraviolet radiation, and shots of adrenalin or cortisone, though this is typically only done for severe cases. In some cases, the disease will simply resolve on its own, but many patients will continue to have outbreaks for years and even for the rest of their lives. These patients may choose to seek alternative treatments such as acupuncture or natural antihistamines like vitamin C or butterbur.

There is a variety of preventive steps patients with skin writing disease can take to decrease the likelihood or intensity of an attack. Stress can often trigger an outbreak, so patients should take steps to reduce it. Hot baths and showers should also be avoided if possible, as should tight clothing or things like watches and jewelry that might rub against the skin. Some people may benefit from switching to hypoallergenic soaps or detergents. For the small number of patients whose hives are triggered by a known allergen, that substance should be avoided.


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Post 3

There are some pretty cool photos of this online if you look them up. It actually looks something like scarification which is kind of weird really, but it must be kind of fun to play with. I mean, if it's not too irritating with your skin.

I can remember doing this on purpose when I was a teenage, trying to make patterns on my skin by pressing hard with my nails. And I still sometimes get patterns on my skin when I get out of bed or remove tight clothing. I guess this is just an extreme version of that.

Post 2

@clintflint - I guess, like anything, you just have to learn to manage it. You'd have to just wear the right kind of clothes and make sure you don't let anyone get too close with long fingernails.

If there are dry skin creams and things that can help, you'd just have to keep them handy. It would be a pain in the neck, but it would be manageable.

Post 1

At first I was thinking it's kind of a shame to call something like this a disease. I mean, I didn't think that it really caused any harm and seems to be a relatively benign condition that is an inconvenience at the most.

I'm pretty sure some people with it actually think it's pretty cool, since they have a ready made party trick to impress their friends.

But if some people do experience itching and burning then I can see why it is called a disease. When I think about all the times pressure gets applied to my skin during the day I can't imagine how irritating it must be to have an extreme form of dermatographia.

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