Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are well known and often unrecognized plants that can cause allergic contact dermatitis (skin rash or reaction). The plants grow as vines or bushes and have three leaves (poison ivy and poison oak), or a row of paired leaves (poison sumac). The red, itchy and very uncomfortable rash usually shows up in lines or streaks and frequently coexist with blisters or large raised areas. It is by far the most common dermatitis caused by contact with plants. About one half (50%) of all Americans have an allergy to these plants. The reaction results from contact with an oily resin (urushiol) produced by all three plants. The rash will often continue to develop in new areas over several days, but only on the parts of your skin that had initial contact with the urushiol or those parts where the resin was spread by touching. The rash is not contagious. You should not be able spread the rash after it appears, even if you touch any blister fluid. This is because the urushiol should no longer be on the skin. The oil is present in all parts of the plants, including the leaves, stems, flowers, berries, and roots. Urushiol is present in all parts of the plants, including the stems, flowers, root and the berries. Indirect contact, such as touching camping gear, gardening tools, pets or other objects that have come in contact with one of these plants with the resin, may also cause the rash. Exposure to the smoke these plants give off, if burned, may cause a much more severe reaction and difficulty with breathing. This type of exposure may also affect areas of the face such as the eyes, mouth and throat.
Signs and symptoms:
-Red streaks, hives or general redness that usually develops 1-2 days after contact (8-48 hrs.).
(The rash usually takes a week or more to show up with the first exposure.)
-Blisters (the fluid in blisters is not contagious).
-Weeping, crusting, and swelling.
-Severe itching and burning.
-Learn to identify and avoid contact with these plants.
-Wear protective clothing when walking in areas where these plants grow
-Use a product that prevents the poison from getting on your skin.
-Wash your clothing right after you return from a possible exposure.
-If you are exposed, washing the skin immediately with soap and water.
-Applying rubbing alcohol to the exposed area may help prevent the rash.
Without treatment, the rash will usually lasts about 1-3 weeks. In individuals who are very sensitive to urushiol, the rash may take 4-6 weeks to heal. The symptoms are usually start improving by the second day, and complete healing occurs in 7 to 14 days. A skin infection may develop if prolonged or excessive scratching occurs.
Wash the area immediately after contact if possible with water. To relieve symptoms, use wet compresses and take cool baths. Aveeno or baking soda (about a half cup per bath) baths will often help. Antihistamines and calamine lotion are also helpful. Moderate or severe cases may require treatment by a doctor. Corticosteroid tablets, creams or injections may be necessary. Call your health care provider if the symptoms are severe, near your eyes or the rash covers a large part of your body. Try to stay cool as sweating and heat make the symptoms worse.Be sure to wash all clothing and any equipment that came in contact with the plants with soap and water. Also, give your pets a warm, soapy bath to remove any of the resin from the fur.