I recently discovered that I have dermatographia. As with Brenden’s cold urticaria diagnosis, it is so obvious in retrospect that I can’t believe it took me so long to recognize it. I was absent-mindedly scratching at my leg one day a few weeks ago when I suddenly noticed the area I was scratching was covered in little bumps that I knew hadn’t been there before. On a whim, I ran a fingernail down the inside of my forearm. The area started to itch, and then the entire line raised up in a welt. Later that evening, I was able to write “Hello World” on my arm, legibly.
According to the research I’ve done, dermatographia involves the same physiological response as Brenden’s cold urticaria. Only the triggering stimulus is different. Mast cells release histamines when they shouldn’t, causing the itching and swelling. Because things like environmental allergies and asthma involve an additional step of the body calling for the mast cells to go to work, the drugs that work for those allergies don’t work as well on the urticarias. The best advice I’ve been able to find so far is to avoid the stimulus. For Brenden, that meant staying warm. For me, that means not irritating my skin.
Have you ever tried to avoid scratching when you itch? Mosquito bite? Can’t scratch it. Got a little dry skin? Better treat that with lotion, don’t scratch it. Sometimes I’ll get an itch on my hip from my jeans rubbing, or on my lower back from my hair tickling or a belt rubbing, and I’ll scratch at it without thinking. Then I’m rewarded with a large area of hives and welts and massive itching. Don’t scratch it!!!
It takes over a minute for even the itching response to start, and three full minutes before the welts really show. That means that I really have to think sometimes to figure out what is causing the problem. I’ve had itchy skin for many months, and I’d been ascribing it to dry skin, especially during the winter. It didn’t go away with summer’s humidity, though, like it should have. Finally I’ve realized that just the act of scrubbing my body with a washcloth in the shower and then scrubbing it dry with a towel is enough to cause the itching. If I then give in and scratch any part of that, it will itch ALL DAY LONG. Now I’m on a quest to figure out all the sources of itching and fix them. Do I need to give up jeans? Certain fibers? Elastic waistbands? Anything with seams against my skin? Tags in my shirts? Bras?
It’s that combination of relief and stress that comes with any new diagnosis. Relief to have a framework that makes all sorts of things suddenly make sense. Stress from trying to cope with whatever is going on and try to get it to stop. I don’t want to be bothered, don’t want to think about it, until I’m faced with welts from hip to ankle because I started scratching something, thinking just a little bit won’t hurt.
Just another day around here.