Now that summer is upon us and everyone is enjoying being outside I am seeing patients with contact dermatitis (rashes) after coming into contact with poisonous plants. While allergies are slowing down a bit with the hotter weather, plants like poison ivy, oak and sumac (depending where you live) are full of leaves. About 50% of people who come into contact with the leaves of these plants will have a reaction.
The adage “leaves of three, let them be” continues to be the best way to prevent getting a rash. That also means wearing long sleeves, and pants...and gloves. But what child goes off to play in the yard, or by the creek dressed like that for summer? Sunscreen yes, gloves, probably not.
If you realize you have been exposed to the plant leaves and therefore the urushiol (oil on leaf) , wash all areas of exposed skin as soon as possible with some products that are available like Tecru, Sanfel and Goop Hand Cleaner....if you don’t have those use dish washing soap.
It may take up to 4 days after exposure to develop the rash and lesions may also appear at different times depending on the location and length of exposure to the urushiol. The rash is usually really itchy and is often is linear clusters or little vesicles or blisters. The rash does not spread by scratching or from the fluid inside the blisters, that is a myth. You cannot give anyone else poison ivy if you have washed off the urushiol.
The best treatments relieve the itching and irritation. Keeps nails short and hands clean so that scratching will not cause a secondary bacterial infection. You can use oatmeal baths (Aveeno) or cool compresses (Dommeboro) to help control itching. An over the counter steroid cream is a good place to start to help the inflammation, but it may be a stronger prescription steroid cream will be needed.
I also try calamine lotion or astringent to soothe the irritation. Sarna is another good lotion for itching....Oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) really don’t help with the itching as it is not due to histamines, but may cause a bit of sedation so a child can sleep.
If the rash is getting worse, spreading to the face and around the eyes or begins to look infected it is time for a visit to the pediatrician. For severe cases oral steroids may be necessary.
It sometimes takes 10-14 days for the rash to go away. Oh, and getting overheated only makes you itch more.