Monday, August 22, 2011

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Our office sees a significant increase in poison ivy and poison oak cases at this time of year. With many individuals enjoying the summer weather and spending more time outdoors, they may unknowingly come into contact with these pesky plants.

When you come into contact with poison oak or ivy, the oil, called urushiol, rubs onto your body and almost immediately begins to soak into your skin. Most people are susceptible to an allergic reaction from this oil. If you have encountered either of the plants, it is recommended that you immediately wash the area with soap; this can remove up to 50% of the oil if washed in the first 10 minutes, greatly decreasing your degree of irritation.

After you have been exposed, you can expect to see a rash forming within two days of exposure. The rash typically will last about two weeks and will be itchy and cause significant irritation. Once you have poison oak or ivy, it is not contagious, but ensure you wash anything else that may have come in contact with the oil.

Contrary to popular belief, the fluid that is sometimes seen oozing from the rash does not cause the rash to spread. New areas of irritation showing up on the skin is usually due to having a lesser amount of the oil touching those parts of the skin, thus taking longer for the rash to show up. Another cause of new irritation or rash can be a result of transfer of the oil from clothing or pets. If trace amounts of the oil touch the skin after the initial exposure, it can prolong the rash or make it appear that it is spreading.

Cool wet clean washcloths or gauze applied to the area and allowed to dry on the skin will help especially if it is oozing. Applying calamine lotion or hydrocortisone as well may help the itching. If large areas of the body or swelling occur, then its time to make an appointment so that we can prescribe stronger medications to speed up recovery.

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