Getting Under Your Skin
by Rachael Feibelman
Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac are some of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. These plants contain an oil called urushiol, which can trigger an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with the skin.
Contact can occur either by directly touching the plant or by touching objects that have been exposed to the plant’s oil, which includes tools used in the garden, equipment used for camping and/or sports, or even pet’s fur.
Burning the plant is dangerous, because the smoke can cause an allergic reaction on the skin as well as the nasal passages, throat and lungs.
The rash is typically red, itchy and forms hives and/or blisters. This reaction can occur a few hours after exposure or even up to three to five days after exposure. The rash is not contagious, nor is the fluid inside of the blisters, only contact with the plant’s oil can cause an allergic reaction to the skin.
Here are a few tips on what to do at home if you come into contact with any of these poisonous plants.
First, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water after touching the plant. If you don’t wash the oil off, it can spread from person to person and to other areas of the body.
Next, wash the clothing you were wearing, as well as any other items that may have also come in contact with the plant’s oil, such as your gardening tools or pets.
Scratching the rash or opening the blisters can increase your risk of infection, so it is important to take measures to help ease the itching. This includes taking a lukewarm bath with a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which can be found at most pharmacies or grocery stores, or by adding one cup of baking soda to bath water. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can also be applied to the affected areas to ease itching and inflammation.
Taking antihistamine pills can decrease itching, however, use with caution as some can cause drowsiness. Do not apply antihistamine cream or lotion to the affected areas, as this can make the rash worse.
If the rash is not improving after about seven to 10 days, or you think it may have become infected, make an appointment to see your local dermatologist.
Go to the emergency room immediately if you have any of the following symptoms: You have trouble breathing; the rash covers most of your body; you experience swelling, especially of the eyelids.