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Prevent a Poison Ivy rash before it happens!

Published on Aug 20, 2012 with 0 comment

Except for the chance of contacting poison ivy, the summer is an excellent time for enjoying the great outdoors and getting close to nature. So learn to identify this leafy bush or vine in order to avoid contact. It may save you a lot of misery.
Poison ivy is a common plant that contains oil called urushiol in the leaves, stems, and roots. The poison ivy rash, called contact dermatitis, is caused by an immune response to urushiol. Poison ivy has three leaves and typically grows as a shrub in the northern US and a vine in southern US. It tends grow on the edges of fields, forests, or roads as well as in areas where the ground has been disturbed (new construction, etc.). Poison oak and poison sumac also can cause contact dermatitis. Poison oak also has leaves of three and grows as a shrub. Poison sumac has rows of paired leaflets and grows and a shrub or small tree.

Most people (about 85%) have been previously sensitized to urushiol and will develop the typical poison ivy rash on subsequent exposure.  The rash is typically delayed and generally appears 24-48 hours after contact with the plant. The rash of poison ivy presents with redness and itching, followed by small or large blisters, typically in a linear pattern.  Swelling of the affected area is also common. The rash is not contagious but you the rash can spread by by accidentally spreading the oil to other parts of the body.

There are several ways of contracting the poison ivy rash. The most common way is through direct contact; by touching the leaves of poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. A person can also get the rash through indirect exposure. Urushiol is very sticky and can stick to just about anything including a pet’s fur, clothing, and tools.  One can then get the rash by touching objects that are contaminated with the urushiol oil and transferring it to their skin. The third way to get the rash is through airborne exposure. If poison ivy is burned, small particles of urushiol are released into the air. These airborne particles can subsequently land on the skin, beginning the process leading to contact dermatitis.

Most poison ivy rashes are minor and go away in 1-3 weeks. Treatment of poison ivy includes oral antihistamines, calamine lotion, steroid creams, and cool compresses. If a large area of skin is involved, especially if it involves the face or the eyes, a physician should be consulted for more aggressive treatment. Your physician may prescribe oral steroids to reduce swelling and inflammation. You should also monitor the rash for signs of skin infection which include pain, fever, worsening of the redness and swelling, and the presence of pus. But, the best treatment is always avoidance.

If one has come in contact with poison ivy, the skin should be washed immediately with soap and water. If the urushiol oil is washed off before it absorbs, the rash can be prevented. Also, any clothing that may have come in contact with poison ivy should be removed.

If you are going into an area where poison ivy may be growing, protect yourself. Wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves. You can also buy over the counter product called Ivy Block ® which can prevent your skin from absorbing the urushiol oil. Have a fun and poison ivy free summer!

Click here for more information on Contact Dermatitis.



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