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Mar 23

Poison Plant Rashes

poison-ivyNow that it’s spring, many of us will be heading outdoors to participate in various outside activities including working in our yards. Spring and summer are the most common seasons that people develop allergic reactions to plants. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis in the U.S.

Poison ivy usually grows as a vine, poison oak usually a shrub, and sumac along the ground in swampy and marshy areas. Poison ivy and oak have three leaflets to form its leaves, and poison sumac has seven to thirteen leaflets.

The chemical that causes the dermatitis is the same in all three plants. It is an oil called urushiol which is in the sap of the plants. A person can come in contact with the oil by touching the plant or coming in contact with something the plant has touched such as the fur on a pet.

An allergic reaction does not occur after the first contact with the plant, but might require several contacts before the reaction occurs. Most people will develop an allergy to the oil if they come into contact with it enough. The reaction develops usually 24-72 hours after contact . There is itching, redness, and the blisters. The rash is often arranged as streaks in a linear fashion.

There are several things one can do to help prevent poison ivy. First of all, using herbicides such as Roundup is an effective means to rid the plant from the yard. If one does come into contact with the plant, washing the oil off the skin with soap and water can sometimes prevent or at least minimize the allergic reaction. There are barrier creams such as Ivy Block or Ivy Shield which can be purchased over the counter and can protect the skin from the oil. Clothing works well also.

Once the allergic reaction occurs mid cases might be relieved by over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream , cool tap water soaks, and if necessary oral antihistamines to help with the itching. Most cases require treatment with stronger prescription topical steroids and in many cases oral or intramuscular steroids administered by a physician. The reaction should begin to respond to treatment within a day or two, but the treatment lasts 7-10 days to prevent rebound after treatment.

In summary, the poison ivy season is upon us. Learn to recognize and avoid the plant if possible, but when the rash does develop, seek treatment early before it becomes too severe.