Poison ivy, oak and sumac are notorious for causing hives. I’ve seen this a few times this week in my office. The allergic reaction is due to urushiol, colorless oil in the leaves, stem, root and sap of the plant. When the urushiol is exposed to air it turns brown and will leave brown spots on the leaves.
How can you get exposed? … lots of ways.
- Direct contact with the plant
- Breathing in the smoke of burning plants
- Touching clothing that has been exposed
- Touching an animal that has been exposed
What are the symptoms? Intense itching, redness, blister formation, swelling.
How long does it take to have a reaction? Symptoms typically occur after several hours to a few days after exposure to the plant oil.
How long does the reaction last? A few days or up to three weeks.
To be certain of diagnosis and a treatment plan for you… see your doctor.
Are you contagious? No.
- The rash itself is not contagious.
- The fluid that leaks from the blisters is not contagious.
- The rash can only be transferred to another person if the oil is still on the body.
- So, if you think you have had contact with one of these plants, clean all clothing, bedding and objects that the person has touched.
What is treatment? How to get relief? Benadryl, an antihistamine, can help cause sleepiness (which can feel like relief when you are itchy/scratchy). Hydroxyzine may help more with itching and also cause sleepiness. Calamine lotion and medications like Domeboro and Burrow’s solution can help decrease weeping of blisters and relieve itching. Your doctor can prescribe steroid cream or pills which may be indicated if the rash is widespread.
How to avoid poison ivy? “Leaves of three, leave them be.” This means avoid the plants with three leaves on each stem as this is what they look like. Wear long-sleeved clothing, pants, and gloves to protect your skin. If you do come into contact with poison ivy, wash your skin immediately (within 15 minutes and don’t rub or scrub the skin.