Allergic to Stress: Dermatographic Urticaria

Last year, I was under a lot of stress, especially during one particular month. Although I was completely fine afterwards, a couple of months later, I began to develop hives all over my body. Whenever I scratched them, they just got bigger and more severe. I eventually visited a dermatologist, who told me that my hives were a result of dermatographic urticaria. While that diagnosis seemed scary, the dermatologist assured me that it was nothing to worry about.

Starting From Scratch

Dermatographic urticaria (“skin-writing”) is the development of hives as an effect of overheating, excessive stress, or anxiety. Other common causes include a history of allergies, reactions to certain medications, or exercise that cause excessive skin-rubbing such as wrestling. Those affected with skin-writing are very sensitive to scratches or pressure on their bodies. One little scratch can develop a hive that will last up to 30 minutes. Although irritating, this condition is more of a nuisance than a threat. After a few years, the skin-writing should go away completely if properly taken care of.

Dermatographic urticaria © Mysid, CC0 1.0

Scratching the Itch

Approximately 5% of the population is affected by this condition, but luckily, it’s easy to handle. While the exact cause of dermatographic urticaria is unknown, the effects of skin-writing can usually be lessened through the use of antihistamines. In cases where antihistamines don’t work, there are alternative treatments that have been reported to help. These include cold compress, staying hydrated, and moisturizing.

Most individuals have accepted their condition; take for example Dr. Zoe Waller. Dr. Waller is a lecturer in Chemical Biology in the School of Pharmacy at UEA, who uses her dermatographic urticaria to engage her students. She draws molecules on her arm, and claims that “to capture someone’s attention, this certainly is more effective.”

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