Dermatitis / Poison Ivy
Contact dermatitis is a condition that can be caused by substances that come into contact with the skin. There are two types of contact dermatitis, irritant and allergic. Contact dermatitis symptoms can be rashes, reddening, swelling, blistering and itching of skin areas. In severe cases, it can cause allergic reactions requiring immediate emergency medical care.
Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by irritants, such as acids, alkali substances, harsh chemicals, strong soaps and detergents, solvents or bleach. These chemicals can cause a reaction on anyone's skin. Allergic contact dermatitis results from exposure to a substance or material which caused the skin to develop a sensitivity or allergy.
Determining the factor(s) causing contact dermatitis is a process of determining the allergen(s) involved. The diagnosis process may involve an investigation into the materials a patient comes into contact with at home and at work. In many cases, contact dermatitis can be diagnosed by the location of the rash (as the affected area may be regularly exposed to a potential allergen). In some cases, a dermatologist may want to perform patch tests to determine the allergen.
Common allergens causing contact dermatitis are poison ivy (and its related plants), nickel, rubber or latex, fragrances, cosmetics and certain dyes. Typically it is a certain group of chemicals within commonly used products that cause allergic contact dermatitis. Those chemicals may be:
- paraphenylenediamine (PPD) (often found in hair dyes)
- neomycin (found in prescription and non-prescription creams, ointments, lotions, eye/ear drops, and even in some first aid antibiotic creams)
- chromates (from chromium, which are used in cement, leather, paints and anti-rust products; also common in certain large industries such as automotive, railroad, building, foundry and welding; they are even used in matches)
Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac. Your skin's reaction to it is a form of allergic contact dermatitis.
Most everyone learned during childhood what poison ivy looks like, three green shiny leaves that turn red in the fall, and those who have had a run-in with poison ivy know the itchy, blistering rash that develops. Something most people do not know is that the active ingredient in poison ivy causing the allergic reaction, urushiol oil, can remain on clothing, lawn tools and sporting goods (golf clubs for example) long after the yardwork is done and long after leaving the golf course or the hiking trail. Those who may think a way to rid their yard of poison ivy is to burn it, well, in a word, "don't", as the smoke can cause potentially severe symptoms. The best way to eradicate poison ivy plants and vines is with a herbicide/defoliant product such as Roundup®.People will often refer to poison oak and sumac, those plants, too, have the same urushiol oil and can cause the same reaction upon exposure as poison ivy. Poison oak grows west of the Rocky Mountains and poison sumac is seen primarily in wetlands in the Southeastern U.S., so travelers should be aware of poison ivy's cousins when visiting those regions.
In this photo the blisters were caused by contact with poison ivy oil on the top of a pair of work boots used for lawnwork. This unfortunate victim wore socks that did not go up high enough to afford protection.The key to avoiding the itchy, blistering rash after poison ivy contact is to very quickly rinse the contacted skin in lukewarm, soapy water. The exposed skin may still get a patch of itchy rash, but quickly washing it off may keep it from spreading to other parts of your body and even to other people. As long as the active oil is on the skin, it can spread to another part of the body or even be transferred to the skin of another person.It is strongly advised that exposed clothing, lawn tools or sporting goods also be washed. It is not a commonly known fact, but people can get a poison ivy rash in the winter from lawn tools not touched in months.Treatment for poison ivy symptoms: Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can be effective at-home treatments for minor outbreaks.
If you have more serious symptoms from a poison ivy outbreak (as listed below)
Go to an emergency room right away
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- a rash covering a large portion of your body
- development of numerous blisters
- swelling (such as on an eyelid that swells shut)
- a rash developing on your face or genitals
- itching all over and nothing helps
Any delay in treatment may result in a prolonged episode, infection or other serious complications.If a rash persists and it is indicated that other treatment options should be explored, it is recommended that an exposed individual make an appointment to see their dermatologist at their earliest opportunity.
American Academy of Dermatology