Skin Reaction to Scratching – What is it?

By: Nicole Mezo, PA-C

photo of Nicole Mezo at Colorado Allergy & Asthma Centers

Nicole Mezo, PA-C

Dermatographism, also known as dermatographia, literally translates from Greek meaning “writing on skin.”  Dermatographism, is a condition where the skin becomes red, raised, inflamed, and itchy after the skin is scratched, rubbed, or under pressure.  The condition is similar to hives and is benign. Approximately 2-5% of the population has this condition.

Causes and Prevention

The cause of dermatographism is not known. Triggers may include insect bites, stress, infections, exercise, heat, cold, vibration, pregnancy, and allergic reactions to food and certain medications including the antibiotic penicillin.  After an allergic reaction, the hives may resolve but the skin can remain dermatographic for weeks, months, or years.   Dermatographism can affect all ages but has a higher incidence in teenagers and young adults, typically in their 20’s and 30’s.

skin scratch

Prevention of dermatographism includes keeping the skin moisturized to prevent itching, wearing comfortable clothing, avoiding rubbing the skin, and avoiding hot showers.  Preferred treatment includes oral antihistamines such as loratadine, fexofenadine, and cetirizine prescribed at “higher than standard doses.”

Duration and Treatment

The duration of dermatographism is variable and can occur from months to years.  It can occur intermittently and may be lifelong.  One study suggests that resolution after five years is 36% and after ten years is 51%.  Again, it is important to stress that the condition is benign and can be controlled with antihistamine therapy.

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