Have you ever drawn on an etch a sketch? These are those boards with magnetic sand on which you write with a metal pen. Once you dismiss the charge, the writing disappears as well. Now, imagine that same phenomenon, but on human skin.
Seems a bit bizarre? Well, you’re not the only ones to think so. Neither would it be completely outlandish to think compare the idea with writing on your skin. And that is, in fact, exactly what it is. Dermatographia, as this condition is known, comes from the term Dermatographism or skin writing, which is a kind of skin rash or hives that appear on the skin when pressure is put on it.
This can also prove to be a socially embarrassing condition to have. Imagine your boyfriend hugs or kisses you, and there is an imprint for the world to see! On the other hand, it can be pretty cool, given a person can use his/her body like a temporary canvas for art, or even convey ‘secret messages’.
“In lay man’s terms, we call it skin asthma. It’s when swelling is caused by the release of histamine cells in the skin, called mast cells. In this type of uticaria, itchy weals occur after friction such as rubbing, pressurising or stroking of the skin. First a white line appears, it reddens and then swells. This is a very common occurrence and is more prevalent among people who themselves of their family have a history of asthma, or other allergies such as allergic rhinitis, hay fever, migraine, etc.,” says Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, a renowned Delhi-based dermatologist.
These swellings usually last for an hour, or a couple more, depending on the severity of the condition. In a 2-minute video on Youtube, UK-based Louise Sarah – who has dermatographia – explains the condition. Thankfully, Sarah does not have a severe form of the condition and her skin goes back to normal after a while. To dispell a lot of the myths associated with dermatographia, Sarah has actually recorded a series of videos in which she shows viewers the rather ‘cool’ side of the condition.
As cool as dermatographia looks in this video, it’s severe form can actually be quite horrific, as Dr Bhardwaj explains. “There are times when the simplest of friction can cause your throat to swell and this can even be fatal…it’s called angioedema,” she adds.
For those with a milder form of the condition, applying ice on the reddened area, following of vegetarian diet or even a regular intake of antihistamines or opting for subcutaneous pens can help.