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Washington Heights Dermatology
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Poison Ivy and Oak

All That You Need to Know About Poison Ivy and Oak
Rashes due to poison ivy and oak are very common in many states of the US. The rashes occur when a person is exposed to sticky oil called urushiol found in these plants. The exposure can take place in the following ways:

  • When your skin touches or brushes against any parts of these plants (leaves, stems, flowers, berries and roots). An allergic reaction can take place even if the plant is dead.
  • Touching anything, that has oil from these plants. Most common mediums are pet’s fur, clothing, gardening tools, sports gear etc.
    When you come in contact with this oil, an allergic reaction takes place and itchy red rashes are caused. This is known as allergic contact dermatitis.

The following are the symptoms that will occur after the allergic reaction takes place:

  • Itching
  • Redness around the area of contact with the oil.
  • Hives
  • Blisters that may secrete fluids.

However, the reaction to the allergy can vary from people to people. While some people may never get allergic to these thus plants, others can show severe symptoms like:

  • Irregular Breathing
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, genitals etc.
  • Large blisters

Is it Contagious?
Rashes due to Rhus plants only spread when a person is exposed to urushiol oil. It does not spread through the rashes or blisters (and the fluid in them) on the skin. However, the indirect contact to the oil through clothes, fur, tools etc. can cause allergy.

The Rhus allergy occurs and heals itself on a natural course. It takes a week for the rashes to show up. They may last for a period of 10 days to 3 weeks. In severe cases, they may last up to 6 weeks. A mixture of vinegar and cold water, ice packs, cold showers may give temporary relief from the itching. You should contact the best dermatologist near you to get professional medical supervision.

Poison ivy and oak looks different according to the change in seasons. In addition, they may grow differently depending upon the environment. They may grow as climbing vines or shrubs. You can prevent coming in contact with oil by adopting following safety measures:

  • Wear long pants and sleeves, and closed shoes while visiting places where you suspect the presence of such plants.
  • Wear vinyl or leather gloves while working in the gardens or with wild shrubs.
  • Apply lotion or barrier cream that has bentoquatam in them. It can prevent the contact of oil with the skin.
  • Never burn poison ivy and oak as the oil can attach to the smoke particles and exposure to the smoke can cause rashes. Inhaling the smoke may even hurt the lungs.

In case, you have already encountered these plants:

  • Wash your skin immediately with a mild soap or rubbing alcohol. Also, use a brush to clean under your nails.
  • Wash away your clothes or any other items that have oil on them.

The best way to identify poison ivy and oak and to safeguard oneself against them is by remembering the phrase: “leaves of three let them be”. These plants generally have three leaflets.

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