This week’s blog is on poison ivy/poison oak, those nasty plants that cause a very itchy uncomfortable rash. Most of us have had some experiences with this.
The rash of poison ivy/poison oak usually appears 1-4 days after exposure. The skin appears red, swollen and blistered, often in a linear pattern or patches. The rash is not contagious and should heal in 1-2 weeks.
The rash of poison ivy or poison oak is caused by a skin reaction to the oil from these plants. The oil can be found in the leaves, stems, berries and roots. Poison ivy/oak rash is more common in summer when people spend more time outside wearing shorts, sandals and T-shirts instead of the more protective clothing of the other seasons. This makes it easier for our skin to come in contact with the plants’ oil. Another way to be in contact with the oil of these plants is when the oil is deposited on our clothing or on the fur of pets. So, remember, if Fido plays outside you should wash your hands after petting him. Poison ivy/oak should never be burned since the smoke contains the oil and can be harmful to eyes and nasal passages.
The best way to avoid the poison ivy/oak rash is to avoid the plants. I’ve included some pictures of these plants as they appear in summer. Remember, “Leaves of three, let it be!” If you’ve spent time in the woods or think that you might have come in contact with these plants, it would be wise to shower with lots of soap and water to remove the oils from your skin. Don’t forget to wash your clothes since the oils may also be on them.
If you are unlucky and do develop the rash from poison ivy/poison oak here are a few recommendations for treatment. Soak the affected skin in cool water or rub the area with an ice cube. 1% Hydrocortisone cream may be applied to intact skin up to 3 times a day. Trim children’s fingernails so they will be less likely to break the skin with scratching. Oral Benadryl will help with itching and possibly with sleep so best to give at bedtime. Your child may need to be seen for an appointment if the rash is severe, there are lesions on the face or if there are signs of secondary infection (more swelling, redness or pain than is normally expected).
I hope this information is helpful. Information was obtained from the American Academy of Pediatrics website: http://healthychildren.org. Please visit this website for additional information on many pediatric health issues.
Next week more summer skin woes.
Sue Gaston, MD