Dermatographic Urticaria

What is it?

Also called “skin writing”, where friction (scratching or some other contact) causes red hives or raised skin.


Likely an overabundance of histamine in the body. Some possibilities might be mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), environmental allergens, mild chronic food issues, high histamine foods, histamine releasing foods, or body does not break down histamine well due to lack of enzymes such as diamine oxidase?

Ways to control?

Aside from antihistamines, our allergist at the time recommended better control of environmental factors such as dust mite control and removing fragrance. Also to avoid tomatoes and berries (histamine releasing foods?).

What happened?

My partner’s dermatographism disappeared along with our diet experiments but at the same time we started better management for environmental allergens as well, so it is not clear what was the main culprit. Regardless this didn’t come back except for a brief return during travel when we had much more fermented foods and was in a dusty environment. So again, not sure which is the cause, or perhaps it is both.

Before and After

Symptoms that disappeared

Brain fog, frequent headaches, migraine (especially after exercise), itchiness (after exercise), random joint pain, irritability, hunger pangs within a couple of hours of eating, random bouts of anaphylaxis (near black outs, vomiting, and diarrhea)
severe menstrual cramps, what looked like an extreme case of keratosis pilaris (tiny red spots all over the body), adult acne
mouth sores, bleeding and/or itchy anus, dizziness, frequent throat clearing due to scratchy throat, and bloating

My partner
Dermatographism, loss of water weight, bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding), abdominal discomfort and bowel movements, much reduced gas

Factors other than diet that may have some influence: dust mite control, removing most scented household products, slight gradual increase in exercise as I no longer had itching, migraine, or nausea afterwards, decrease in eating out or processed foods


Nearing four years of successfully avoiding severe reactions. Still have smaller accidents. Possibly mold, which can be tricky to steer clear of entirely, and cross contamination. Luckily reactions to these are bouts of diarrhea and not life threatening, so in that sense I am fortunate and can afford to take little risks.

My partner gets inklings of dermatographism, bruxism, headaches, and bowel trouble when he starts eating out more. This might escalate to sleep disturbance, fever, and body aches when this goes on for longer periods of time like during travel. Although the culprits are a bit more ambiguous (is it high amines or mold, mild reactions to milk or wheat, or histamine overload caused by a combination of environmental allergies, fermented foods, and alcohol?), at least it is certain that they are a subset of those eliminated from our home diet.

In some sense it is a trade off. Used to be able to eat much anything, as I didn’t have clear reactions every single time I ate a problem food, but had random incidents and was chronically unwell. Now, I feel the best in my life but need to be cautious of everything I eat since reactions to accidental ingestion is swift and unmistakeable. For me, the trade off is worth it.

Stumbling into the Gluten Free Diet

Sometimes others guide you down a path you yourself never would have considered. Awareness of this new trendy diet (back in 2013) started trickling in from various sources. There was a young nephew with autism. There was Lady GaGa. Then there was Novak Djokovic, who always seemed to have all the pieces necessary to become one of the greats, yet seemed slow to move past that final elusive threshold.

Then there was my partner. It was on one of our routine daily walks one bright early summer day that he jumped up onto the horizontal bars along the trail for some pull ups. When he jumped back down we were surprised to find redness and swelling expanding rapidly from his palms toward his elbows. Earlier in the year he had a bad case of hives all over his body that didn’t go away for a few weeks even with antihistamines and later prednisone. And because of this he had a standing referral to an allergist, which we finally decided to act upon.

We already knew he was allergic to cats, peach fuzz, and insect bites. Upon skin prick testing the whole panel of environmental allergens, we found him positive to nearly everything except an odd one or two. And his redness and swelling from dust mites was such that even the technician was surprised. Putting aside the question of how he survived upon this earth for so long, the allergist diagnosed dermatographism for the pull up bar incident and gave handouts on some guidelines for household products, eating, and cleanliness regarding dust mite allergy. He also explained food allergy tests were not necessary as it is impossible to not know one has it. When asked about the gluten free diet he casually suggested a two week trial then eating it again. Then we would probably be able to feel whether it had anything to do with anything.

By the time my partner came back with all this information I was concerned about his health. It was not just his allergies. He had gastrointestinal issues as well and claimed he never quite felt comfortable his whole life. Because of this I thought there was a reasonable chance this trendy diet might help even though it seemed a hassle to have to cook nearly everything at home after a crash course on what exactly is gluten free. It did not cross my mind that it would make any difference in myself. I only joined in the trial to show support. Besides, it was simpler to choose and cook one gluten free version rather than try to have both options on the table.