What is Poison Ivy Rash?
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Poison ivy or Toxicodendron radicans, a native North American plant is known to cause extreme inflammation of the human skin or contact dermatitis. Its sap makes the body produce an instant allergic response as soon as the phytotoxin touches the epidermis. “Hairy vine, no friend of mine” and “Leaflets three, let it be” are two standard mnemonic rhymes parents use to educate the children about the appearance of this plant.
The American Academy of Dermatology or AAD states that every eighty-five Americans out of hundred are allergic to it. Though the remaining fifteen percent is immune to its effect, even those people who are not typically allergic should also be careful as the probability of reaction increments with repeated exposure and age.
Causes of Poison Ivy Rash
- By touching the plant or by indirectly coming in contact with the oil of the plant, which might have contaminated clothing, pet’s fur, tools or other surfaces. The poisonous sap is present in almost every part of this plant including the stems, leaves, and roots.
- The smoke produced from the burning plant is hazardous. Interestingly, this toxic phytochemical has the ability to remain potent even after the death of the plant. Exposure to even negligible amounts of urushiol (less than a pinch of salt) will result in developing a rash in every eight to nine individuals among ten. This can even affect the lungs too if urushiol is inhaled. The most typical causative reason of contact dermatitis is Toxicodendron.
Symptoms of Poison Ivy Rash
When anybody is exposed to this plant, a rash can be noticed between twelve to seventy-two hours after the exposure. The more sensitive a person is to poison ivy, the sooner it will appear. Typical signs after exposure include:
- Severe itching
- Red streaks or red skin
- Papules or red bumps
- Oozing blisters that are typically forming in lines
- The rash will not spread and it is not contagious. If it happens to enlarge, it is due to a delayed reaction. This rash requires many weeks to heal.
Diagnosis of Poison Ivy Rash
The rash is typically treated by a general practitioner, but a dermatologist can be consulted when the diagnosis is complicated and not very clear. It is usually performed after examining the detailed medical history of the patient and doing a thorough physical examination of the affected area.
While some people are aware of the poison ivy and will report exposure to the plant, others may be uninitiated and may not remember any instances of such exposures. The characteristic appearance of the rash usually suffices for making a proper diagnosis. Imaging studies or blood tests are not required.
Any person coming in direct contact with a poison ivy plant is exposed to the risk of developing a rash. However, people spending longer time outdoors where such plants grow are at significantly higher risk. It may involve specific outdoor professions like gardening, farming, ground-keeping, construction, and forestry. Hobbyist hikers may also belong to an elevated level of risk if they visit areas where such plants grow.
Complications of Poison Ivy Rash
Exposure to this plant can trigger severe allergic responses including a general swelling, fever, headache, or infection. The most typical complication is the growth of bacterial infection on the affected site because of the breaks in the layers of the skin caused by frequent scratching.
Bacterial infections affecting the skin may call for an antibiotic medication and in exceptional cases may propagate to other regions of the body. Also, in rare instances, the airway, eyes, and lungs may also be affected when the smoke produced from burning the plant is inhaled.
Preventions of Poison Ivy Rash
- Both adults and kids should learn to recognize these plants
- Wearing protective clothing to cover the skin such as gloves, long pants, long sleeves and boots when visiting a poison ivy infested area
- Applying commercially available chemical barriers like Bentoquatam, sold as IvyBlock at drug stores on the skin to prevent or minimize the exposure
- Remember not to burn such plants as it can release urushiol particles in the air
- Wearing protective gears and clothing and carefully uprooting these plants, when they are manifesting near one’s house
- Thoroughly washing any objects or clothing that may have been contaminated by these plants, as they can keep the obnoxious plant resin and cause a characteristic rash when worn or touched
- If any household pet happened to be exposed to poison ivy, it should be bathed after wearing protective gloves
Treatments for Poison Ivy Rash
Rinsing with Warm Water
The first line of treatment for anyone who has been recently exposed to such plants involves rinsing the affected region with ample warm water and within half an hour of the exposure for removing the viscous plant resin. It will not prove to be beneficial if done late, i.e., after the aforementioned window of time; as the human skin quickly soak the oily resin up.
Rubbing Alcohol/ Degreasing detergents/ OTC medicines
Some doctors also recommend rubbing alcohol, degreasing detergents or soaps, or OTC (over the counter) poisonous plant washes after the rinsing. It is also necessary to scrub under one’s fingernails for removing any leftovers of this harmful resin. In addition to this, any objects or clothing that may have contacted with such plants should be thoroughly cleaned.
If someone happens to develop the characteristic rash, initial treatment involves symptomatic care, and the rash tends to improve on its own after one to three weeks in most cases. As the body’s immune system will take care of it, the following home remedies can be beneficial during that healing period.
- A cold compress can be prepared and applied to the skin
- Calamine lotion, Tecnu, oatmeal baths, Zanfel, or Domeboro solution (aluminum acetate) can be applied topically to soothe itching
- Oral antihistamines like Benadryl, i.e., diphenhydramine can also relieve itching
- For any rash that is more severe, a registered medical practitioner may suggest an orally applicable corticosteroid like Prednisone or a strong steroidal cream
- OTC painkillers may also be necessary to alleviate discomfort
- If the rash is found to be infected, antibiotics may be used and the rash should never be scratched to prevent developing a bacterial infection
If the patient is going through an anaphylactic reaction or severe allergic reaction characterized by trouble swallowing, breathing, swelling in the face. Also if someone has experienced severe reaction to poison ivy, then the sufferer should be brought to the nearest emergency immediately or an ambulance should be called without wasting any time. Medical care should also be sought when the rash appears on the face or the genitals or if it displays signs of infection.
When to see the doctor?
A healthcare professional should be called if the rash happens to stay itchy and red for more than a fortnight. Additionally if it is present in most of the body parts or near one’s eyes, or when fever is present its time to visit the doctor.