POISON IVY, OAK, AND SUMAC – Nip it in the bud!
by Amy Mitton. -FNP-C
Most people associate poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac with the arrival of summer. However, these hardy plants continue to give us problems even when they appear dead.
Statistics show that around 85% of the population is allergic to poison ivy, oak, and sumac, and up to 15% of those are extremely allergic. These plants grow everywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii. The most common appearance of these plants is the three leaves but this may vary depending on the location. It is common to see groups of 5 or 7 leaves.
Urushiol is the substance in these plants that cause the rash. This substance is sticky, colorless, and odorless and can cause a rash without actually touching the plant. This resin can permanently bind to your skin and cause the inflammatory response if it is not completely washed away after exposure.
Many patients state that they have not even been outside to be exposed to this plant. Our furry friends can bring this resin in on their furs. Another exposure can be by handling mulch if the poison ivy particles were on a tree that was ground into mulch. A more dangerous exposure can be when the resin is inhaled into the lungs when wood is burned. This can be a life threatening situation. All parts of the plant are toxic. It can be found in the stems, roots, and of course the leaves. Even running a saw through the stems or vines can spray your skin with the oil. The winter shows these vines on trees with tendrils or having a hairy appearance.
It takes around an hour for this urushiol oil to absorb into the skin. It is a good rule of thumb to wash the exposed skin ASAP with soap and cool water, dishwashing soap, or rubbing alcohol to remove as much of the unabsorbed urushiol as possible as once it is absorbed, it is harder to treat. Never use bleach on the skin!
Avoidance of these poisonous plants is the best prevention! Wearing long sleeves and long pants when you are in an area where these plants are growing and laundering the clothes after exposure will help in the prevention and spread of exposure. Calamine lotion is still used as well as hydrocortisone cream for ease in itching. Antihistamines can also lessen the itch. Another over the counter cream, Zanfel, can actually remove the resin from the skin after the outbreak of the rash. Never hesitate to contact our office for treatment of this rash. A common treatment is the steroid injection and a mild steroid cream.
Remember the old sayings, “leaves of three, let it be”, “Hairy vine, no friend of mine”, “longer middle stem, don’t touch them”. Let us know if you need more information on skin rashes!
Amy Mitton. FNP-C
Interests: Women’s health, DOT and other Corporate exams, Dermatology and Weight Loss.