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16 Photos That Show What Dermatographism Looks Like

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

When the average person rubs or scratches their skin, they may expect to see a bit of redness or irritation – but this typically fades quickly. However, for people with dermatographism, even the slightest amount of pressure on the skin can provoke a different reaction entirely.

“Dermatographism literally means ‘to write on the skin,’” Jason Miller, M.D. of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Freehold, NJ explained to The Mighty. This means people with the condition develop quick-onset linear wheals (raised skin welts or hives) where the skin has been rubbed, scratched or had pressure applied.

These red, raised marks can be painful, itchy and frustrating to deal with when they arise. However, “there is often no persistent rash to explain the sensations,” Dr. Miller explained. “The symptoms usually come and go within minutes, but can recur frequently enough to cause a patient to seek the care of a medical professional.”

Even if you don’t have wheals 100 percent of the time, you are not alone if the pain or discomfort has an impact on your quality of life. Miller added that some people with dermatographism may experience worsening symptoms at night, which can affect your quality of sleep – leading to fatigue over time.

According to Miller, between 2 and 5 percent of the population develops dermatographism at some point in their lives. Though the cause is usually unknown, Miller said some people have experienced it as a reaction to certain medications (such as antibiotics) or systemic infections.

Although there is no cure for dermatographism, there are several treatments available to manage the symptoms. “The mainstay of therapy for dermatographism, like other forms of hives, is to avoid triggers (if they are identified),” explained Miller. Antihistamines can also be beneficial for both preventing symptoms and managing flare-ups. It’s always important to speak to your doctor before starting, stopping or adjusting the dosage of a medication.

We wanted to understand how this condition affects those who live with it, so we asked our Mighty community to share a photo that shows what it looks like to have dermatographism. If you experience this condition as well, let us know how it affects you in the comments below.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. ‘Dermatographia for me means painful hives from the slightest bit of pressure or scratch.’

red welts in the shape of tic tac toe lines on a woman's back from dermatographism

“Dermatographia for me means painful hives from the slightest bit of pressure or scratch. After a tongue depressor was run along my back by doctors in the early morning during testing, we could still play tic-tac-toe on my back late into the evening.” – Alexis M.

2. ‘Imprints hurt and itch.’

imprint of kitten paw on woman's arm from dermatographia

“When I scratch I get welts, imprints hurt and itch and there are times when it’s so much worse. Here’s a kitty paw imprint from my kitty standing on my arm and she’s a tiny 6 lbs.” – Charia U.

3. ‘It burns and itches when things like this happen!’

imprint on woman's arm from dermatographia

“My daughter fell asleep on me for a few minutes! It burns and itches when things like this happen! My pants and underwear leave imprints that leave me itching for hours!” – Hannah G.

4. ‘I was so embarrassed by my skin in school.’

the word 'why' marked onto a man's skin in red welts due to dermatographism

“I was so embarrassed by my skin in school. If I had an itch and scratched it, my skin would turn bright red. My pale skin would often turn bright red or purple for seemingly no reason in gym class. If I bumped into anything the entire surrounding area would turn red. It takes hardly any pressure and it takes a long time to go away. I was always asked things like, ‘Why is your (insert body part here) so red?!’ ‘Did you cut yourself?!’ ‘Why did you scratch yourself?’ ‘Does that hurt?’” – Austin M.

5. ‘You have to laugh when you’re a human Etch A Sketch.’

white imprint of a heart on a woman's hand from dermatographia

“(This was before it went red.) It’s become a party trick. I send little hearts to friends of mine and we have a giggle about it. You have to laugh when you’re a human Etch A Sketch.” – Daisy-Ella O.

6. ‘[I] took this picture after writing my name on my arm…’

red welts on woman's arm that spell out 'Jamie' from dermatographism

“I was diagnosed with systemic mastocytosis, secondary to EDS [Ehlers-Danlos syndrome]. I then saw another specialist who said it can’t be true because mastocytosis is too rare and comes with dermatographia. I told him I do get this on occasion and being on my masto meds at the time he scratches my arm and said it’s not writing up so I don’t have it and my previous diagnosis was wrong. Later that week I woke up after a 12-hour span without any of my meds and took this picture after writing my name on my arm to show him. He hasn’t questioned the diagnosis since.” – Jamie H.

7. ‘My parent’s cat sat on me… This was 30 minutes later!’

raised red dots in a rash on woman's skin from dermatographism

“My parent’s cat sat on me to clean himself. This is from all the places the tips of his claws (which were retracted still) rested. I also had pants on. This was 30 minutes later!” – Alexandria P.

8. ‘Can’t seem to stop it from happening…’

red marks in criss-cross pattern on woman's arm from dermatographism

“Lightly pressing my arm with a bobby pin. Can’t seem to stop it from happening, despite all the antihistamines I’m on.” – Marridian T.

9. ‘Ran my fingernail across my arm…’

red scrape on woman's arm from dermatographism

“Ran my fingernail across my arm…” – Angie S.

10. ‘I wrote this on my thigh… I snapped the pic almost 10 minutes later!’

deep red marks that write 'hi!' on a woman's leg from dermatographism

“I wrote this on my thigh with my (very short, very dull) fingernail after getting out of the bath. I snapped the pic almost 10 minutes later! It was no longer as raised, but still very red.” – Melissa H.

11. ‘It’s not constant but comes in flares.’

red marks on woman's arm that say 'hello' from dermatographism

“My surgery set off my MCAS [mast cell activation syndrome]. It’s not constant but comes in flares. It feels like my skin is burning underneath but if I itch it burns more.” – Nicolette K.

12. ‘On the plus side, I can make cool patterns!’

red marks on a woman's arm in the shape of a spiral from dermatographism

“It always looks like I have a rash every time I scratch an itch. I always turn red any time my body touches anything. On the plus side, I can make cool patterns and doodles like this!” – Ashley B.

13. ‘I had always thought that I just had fair, sensitive skin.’

red welts and indentations on a man's arm from dermatographism

“I had always thought that I just had fair, sensitive skin. All I had to do for the ‘Hi’ is run my fingernail over the top of my hand. This means if I brush past a corner, it looks like I’ve been cut. [Right:] This happened when my dog walked over my arm.” – Sean F.

14. ‘My own pallet swatches.’

red marks across a woman's arm from dermatographism

“My own pallet swatches (back of the finger used).” – Sierra S.

15. ‘I call it “cat scratch” because it looks like a cat clawed me.’

red welts and scratches on woman's skin from dermatographism

“I call it ‘cat scratch’ because it looks like a cat clawed me. I was diagnosed by a dermatologist with chronic idiopathic urticaria/dermatographism several years ago. This picture of my back was taken last summer after mosquito bites. They, of course, itched like crazy so I used my wooden back scratcher and you see the end result. A light fingernail barely touching my back can sometimes cause it. I have internal/external itching on a constant basis, some days are worse than others. Certain factors (mosquito bites, stress…) cause it to flare. My allergist recently ruled out suspected autoimmune urticaria and mastocytosis. MCAS is still TBD. I also have rheumatoid disease, and several other conditions. As far as the welts go, it appears on my back, neck, chest, arms, legs, trunk.” – Jenny S.

16. ‘People tend to look at me odd for having marks all over my body.’

woman with five red welts running in lines down her back from dermatographism

“I was recently diagnosed (end of 2018). The photo shows the test being done to confirm dermatographia with my new allergist. Lbs of pressure vs the reaction on my skin. The biggest impact it has had is so many false positives with allergy testing, and tests where doctors don’t know dermatographia is a thing. I also scratch and inflame super easy so if skin is exposed people tend to look at me odd for having marks all over my body. As if something more serious has transpired or is going on. It’s exhausting so I tend to cover up even on super hot days.” – Christine B.

Originally published: May 8, 2019
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