Navigating a relationship is challenging enough. More so when physical touch makes your entire body break out in itchy red welts.
For Priscilla Skeeter, this is a regular occurrence. The 21-year-old recently took to Reddit to answer questions about her life with dermographism urticaria, a skin condition that essentially turns the body into a giant, allergy-laden canvas. (The word dermographism literally means “writing on the skin.”)
Whenever any part of her skin is touched — whether by another person or an inanimate object — she’s left with itchy, visible streaks in the pattern of how she was touched. According to Skeeter, who goes by pskeeter on Reddit, the streaks become “bigger and more distorted” at first, then disappear after about 20 minutes.
“I’ve become super used to it,” she wrote. “The only part that sucks is that you can’t scratch your body when you have an itch because more welts will happen and then it’s a never-ending process.”
Skeeter also expounded on some more sensitive subjects: sex and pooping.
As it turns out, it’s manageable. “I’m fine while having sex, but it’s after sex that’s always super annoying because I’m always very itchy,” she wrote. “If there’s ever any contact like spanking or [choking] I have huge welts on myself afterwards, but it’s just itchy, never too horrible.”
She added that her boyfriend now finds it amusing — he thinks “it’s cool now and like if he spanks me or anything halfway though he’ll be like ‘LOOK AT THE WELT!!!'” — but the first time they had sex, he was worried he might accidentally kill her. Generally, however, the skin-writing hasn’t gotten in the way of a good time.
Luckily, Skeeter said the condition doesn’t seem to affect her insides, which could have made for some deeply, deeply unpleasant (and itchy) sexual experiences. Accordingly, she doesn’t have any problems pooping.
She said the condition first appeared when she was 13 and living in California, where there was a “massive bed bug problem.” Her grandparents, whom she lived with at the time, didn’t believe that the welts were actually from anything tangible — they thought she was “crazy” because the marks would disappear after a hot shower. An eventual visit to the dermatologist confirmed that Skeeter indeed had dermographism urticaria.
On a day-to-day basis, Skeeter said she relies on hot showers and Benadryl, as well as “not bumping into things or touching anything.” She added that wearing clothes is irritating, and she’s constantly fearful she has lice because of the scalp irritation. She has tattoos — 11 of them — and preps for new ones by arming herself with an EpiPen and taking Benadryl.
Other redditors with the condition chimed in, echoing Skeeter’s claims that while it’s an annoying thing to live with, it’s not debilitating.
“It is just a small annoyance that does not impact in my life, but you get some embarrassing moments, like when you scratch your forehead or neck, and start to swell up,” wrote user superdantronix. “Now, at 35, I have completely ignored it, and I can say I do not have those [sic] itching anymore.” User HexVessel noted the biggest day-to-day annoyance was “leaning on my face at work.”
Some have turned their condition into art, however. Ariana Page Russell, who produces images of her affected skin, told the Atlantic in 2014 that her photos have elicited positive reactions from other like-skinned people around the world.
“They see the photos and say, ‘Hey, my skin does that too.’ I didn’t know it was a thing with a name,” she said. “They feel better having a name for it, and knowing they’re not alone.”
Worldwide, the condition is seen in about 4% to 5% of the population, according to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology. There’s no cure, though it can be treated with a variety of drugs and methods, like antihistamines and hot showers.