Dealing with Dermographic ulticaria
A condition known as 'skin writing' causes major problems for sufferers, and, as Yvonne Evans finds out, the treatment is limited
Dermographic ulticaria (DU) is a condition where the skin becomes red, inflamed and raised when it is scratched, rubbed, or when the skin is firmly stroked and slapped. The skin reaction usually becomes evident soon after the scratching and disappears within 30 minutes. DU is a common form of chronic hives. The condition is also known as dermographism, which means skin writing.
DU can form on any surface of the body and can be triggered by various things. Urticaria is caused by the release of histamines and other mediators of inflammation from cells in the skin. This process can be the result of an allergic or non-allergic reaction, differing in the eliciting mechanism of histamine release.
“Urticaria can flare up by physical touch, some medications can cause it, heat, the cold or water. The actual cause can be hard to pin point,” explains Dr Hilda O’Shea. Dr O’ Shea is a GP with a special interest in dermatology at the College Road Medical Clinic in Cork.
20 year old Rachel Murphy from Kanturk is one of many who suffer from dermographic urticaria on a daily basis.
“The symptoms seemed to start when I was maybe five or six years of age. If I touched any part of my skin it would result in it becoming bright red and inflamed, especially my face, the most exposed part of my body,” the young woman said.
Rachel was diagnosed with the skin condition when she was 13 years old. At this age, young girls are experimenting with make up and cosmetics, however Rachel feared that she would not be able to take part in this rite of passage.
“I was told that that there was no medication to help it and I would never be able to wear make up as it would irritate the condition,” Rachel explained.
“I was very frustrated before the diagnosis. If I simply changed my clothing my skin would become red and inflamed. I was even more frustrated after the diagnosis as the doctor couldn't give me medication to reduce the symptoms, and told me I wouldn’t be able to wear make up.”
Unfortunately for Rachel, she was never informed that there is in fact a treatment available for those with the condition.
“A daily dose of antihistamines can help with urticaria,” explains Dr O’Shea.
“I have not received any medications for the condition. I have tried many creams such as Sudocrem and E45 but nothing seems to help. I have nothing that can soothe it. I usually just leave it run it's course and let it die down itself,” Rachel said. Luckily, she can still wear cosmetics, despite what she has been told by doctors.
The condition can have serious effects on a sufferer's self-esteem.
“When I was younger I used to be very self-conscious and embarrassed about it, nowadays I don't really take any notice of it it's something that I am now used to. People usually get a fright when they see it at first, asking what happened to the area affected," explains Rachel.
While Dr O’Shea believes there is a lot of information available about the skin condition, sufferer Rachel feels there isn’t much awareness about it here in Ireland.
“I have only come across two people who also have dermographism. They did not know the name for it and they didn’t have it as severely as I do," recounts Rachel.
There are some known conditions that can cause dermographia urticaria such as thyroid problems as well as allergies and other skin conditions. The dermatologist usually will investigate these possibilities before any further diagnosis is done.
After those tests have been ruled out, the dermatologist will try a treatment, usually consisting of antihistamines, to try to reduce discomfort in hopes of the condition passing with time.
Fortunately, for some the condition does pass with time. Often doctors never figure out what the trigger is for this condition. In chronic cases, various diets, lifestyle changes, and experimentation with antihistamines are usually prescribed. 95 per cent of chronic cases are never solved.
While some may feel self conscious about their condition, others embrace it. There is an abundance of websites dedicated to ‘skin writing’ and ‘skin art.’
"I usually write peoples' names on my arm by gently writing on my arm with my nail. Five minutes later their name will be inflamed on my skin. It really seems to amaze people,” Rachel says.
If you would like more information about dermographica urticaria, talk to your GP or see www.dermographism.com