I’ve had this condition for 21 years but only now started searching for serious answers because I knew I wanted to have a baby. I found some, but alas, not enough.
There just isn’t that much information out there about dermatographia. It’s mostly due to the fact that it’s so unique for everyone–it affects each person very differently–and we all have our own triggers. For some it’s food, for others it’s medication, soap, or laundry detergent, and sometimes there’s no trigger, just uncontrollable itching out of nowhere. Since symptoms and causes are so varied, it’s difficult to find concrete answers regarding treatment and causation.
Andie sought answers on her own when she decided to have a baby. Turns out, her condition is triggered by certain foods, linking it to an autoimmune response from these foods. She started a blog chronicling food tests and triggers. I found Andie through her blog about food and dermatographia, The Itch Factor (which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore), and we started up a conversation.
Here’s my interview with Andie about her journey of self discovery.
Ariana Page Russell (APR): When did you find out you have dermatographia? And how did you find out?
Andie Powers (AP): I was about 10 years old, and I was outside (we lived in the UK) playing with my friend’s new kitten, eating one of those mammoth pixie sticks. The kitten scratched my wrist and I noticed that the scratch puffed up. I thought, “that’s weird!” It only took about a week, and my condition was full blown, and in need of treatment.
(APR): What are your symptoms?
(AP): Without antihistamines, my symptoms are raised, puffy welts, redness and an intense itching that spreads with contact. Without the meds, sometimes the itching just manifests completely on it’s own, and the welts are a reaction to subsequent scratching. I don’t remember it being this bad as a kid, so it seems to have gotten progressively worse over time.
(APR): What meds do you take to treat your symptoms? Can you still take antihistamines when you’re pregnant?
(AP): I have always taken about 360 milligrams of Allegra a day, sometimes more. Since I have been pregnant (I’m 16 weeks now), I have been taking 10mg of Zyrtec which is approved as safe as possible for pregnancy, and controlling my diet as much as possible to reduce symptoms. It’s tough limiting myself to one dose a day, however, which is where the connection to how food reacts with my skin is so important.
(APR): Yes, that is so important! So, even with all your dietary changes, you still need antihistamines?
(AP): Yes. This yearlong journey was a food-quest I took to hopefully eliminate the need for medication while pregnant, but that just didn’t end up happening for me. It’s been an enlightening, albeit, frustrating experience. Even with a PERFECT autoimmune paleo diet (it’s the only thing that’s worked for me) which means no dairy, soy, grains, nightshade vegetables, sugar, legumes or beans, and personally for me–chicken and beef–I still need some antihistamine help, almost desperately at the end of the day. Allegra, the antihistamine I was on my entire life is what’s considered a class C medication (bad for pregnancy). I was prescribed Claritin, a class B medication (better for pregnancy) which did almost nothing, but with the perfect diet I was able to squeak by, although I was mildly miserable. That combined with the diet made the first 10 weeks of my pregnancy pretty itchy and terrible. Then the heavens opened up and I discovered that Zyrtec is also Class B, and it worked much much much better than Claritin, possibly even Allegra! I have since taken a break from the diet with the exception of lactose dairy (I still drink kefir) and wheat. There are just too many foods that you need to eat for a baby…and WANT to eat as a pregnant lady 🙂
Are you planning on getting pregnant any time soon? I know how scary it can be taking that first step without really knowing what’s going to happen. Having a good OB who really understands your need for medication is important though. I know some OBs and midwives are sticklers on meds and with so much research on the subject, it’s really important to have someone there that can say “of course it’s not ideal for you to have to take this, but you need it.”
(APR): I don’t plan on getting pregnant anytime soon, and I don’t take antihistamines, but I know many readers of Skin Tome do. This is really helpful, thank you! Have you noticed any changes in your skin since the pregnancy?
(AP): No, I haven’t noticed any changes in my skin while pregnant. Well, actually I might have for about three days. However, I’m fairly convinced that this is an autoimmune response (people’s trigger may vary) and sometimes, symptoms DO get better. Mine haven’t though. The doctors also told me it could go away when I got older. After 21 years, I think it’s settled in to stay. Autoimmune conditions have a tendency to change when you face hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause) but sometimes they stay the same. Good for some, bad for others!
(APR): Well, I have heard people say that their condition goes away as they get older, like into their 40’s or 50’s. You never know, it might disappear one day! What do other people think about it? And do many know you have it?
(AP): I have never met anyone else that has this condition (until now!). Before I found out that diet definitely affects my reactions, I never talked about it at all. However, when you stop eating dairy, sugar, soy, grains, nightshades, eggs, and certain meats and fruits people tend to ask you what in the world is going on! So, it’s been a long year of explanation. Most people are nice and inquisitive about it, and some people just downright don’t believe me! (Until I show them, that is).
(APR): Right, then you show them and you’re stuck with the itch! ;’) What made you start writing about dermatographia on The Itch Factor?
(AP): I started my quest for a “cure” if you will when we decided we wanted to have a baby. My fear of what certain medications could do to a developing fetus, and what would happen to ME when I didn’t get those medications made me fearful for the future. When I started looking for resources for pregnant women with severe dermatographia, there were absolutely no leads whatsoever. I could never find any research, blogs or forums for people dealing with this.
(APR): Yes, there certainly is a shortage of information out there. Thankfully, people are coming forward and sharing their experiences with the condition. Thank you for being one of them! How did you get so interested in the health aspect of it?
(AP): I actually did a little test run one day after receiving Gwyneth Paltrow’s new book “It’s All Good” as a gift. I omitted sugar, gluten and dairy from my diet and my skin was drastically better almost that same day. I had never made the connection because from the time I was ten years old and on, I just woke up, took an Allegra and went on with my day. This time, I deliberately did not take medication, and watched my skin’s reactions. From there, I got an allergy panel done, which honestly, didn’t really help me. The panel was so all over the place, and in hindsight, wrong. However, the process did get me interested in reading about autoimmune diets, which is how I stumbled across Autoimmune Paleo. The autoimmune paleo elimination diet was an eye-opener to how my skin reacts to food, and I’ve gradually been able to reintroduce a few things that I know don’t affect me that much.
(APR): Has dermatographia inspired you? If so, how?
(AP): It definitely did when I was a kid. I remember feeling “different” in a special way that no one else had, even when I was teased about it. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve become more concerned with the possibility of a long-term autoimmune issue that I (and doctors) might be missing. Leaky gut syndrome is one specific condition that I’ve been doing a lot of research on in hopes of one day being itch and welt-free.
(APR): That is definitely a concern of mine too, since my mom has MS and it runs in our family. I feel inspired to take really good care of myself because of all this, probably more so than I would without a skin condition.
Thanks so much Andie! I look forward to reading your post for Skin Tome!
This is what Andie’s skin looks like when she scratches it, since she’s on antihistamines now it doesn’t welt up as much.
Image courtesy of Andie Powers.
Top image courtesy of Jaquilyn Shumate Photography.