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Health Condition

Poison Oak and Poison Ivy Dermatitis

About This Condition

Certain plants in the Toxicodendron (formerly Rhus) genus contain a potent resin called urushiol that, when it comes in contact with skin, can cause a severe allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to it—approximately 85% of the population, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Plants in this group include Western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), Atlantic poison oak (T. pubescens), poison ivy (T. radicans), and poison sumac (T. vernix).

Symptoms

The skin rash caused by the plant resin urushiol is a form of “contact dermatitis.” It is a red, swollen, blistering rash that is both painful and itchy. The blisters can become weepy, but the fluid from them does not spread the rash. Once developed, the rash is not contagious or spread by scratching. Scratching should nevertheless be discouraged to prevent the blisters from becoming infected. The rash can be severe but it is self-limiting, which means it will eventually resolve with no treatment. Most people seek treatment anyway for relief from the symptoms.

Other Therapies

The contact dermatitis caused by exposure to poison oak or ivy may be prevented if the exposed area is thoroughly washed within the first five minutes following contact. Individuals with a rash can soothe inflamed skin with cool compresses made from gauze or thin cloths dipped in water. Clothing, pets, and other objects that have been exposed to plant oil should be washed to prevent re-exposure.

References

1. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1998.

2. Kindscher K. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

3. Sollmann TH. A Text-Book of Pharmacology and Some Allied Sciences. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders & Company, 1906.

4. American Pharmaceutical Association. The Pharmaceutical Recipe Book. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmaceutical Association, 1936.

5. Caranvan D, Yarnell E. Successful treatment of poison oak dermatitis treated with Gindelia spp. (Gumweed). J Altern Complement Med 2005;11:709-10).

6. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1998.

7. Kavasch EB, Baar K. American Indian Healing Arts: Herbs, Rituals, and Remedies for Every Season of Life. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1999.

8. Gibson MR, Maher FT. Activity of jewelweed and its enzymes in the treatment of Rhus dermatitis. J Am Pharm Assoc 1950;39:294-6.

9. Guin JD, Reynolds R. Jewelweed treatment of poison ivy dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis 1980;6:287-8.

10. Long D, Ballentine NH, Marks JG Jr. Treatment of poison ivy/oak allergic contact dermatitis with an extract of jewelweed. Am J Contact Dermat 1997;8:150-3.

11. Zink BJ, Otten EJ, Rosenthal M, Singal B. The effect of jewel weed in preventing poison ivy dermatitis. J Wilderness Med 1991;2:178-82.

12. Sanders J. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2003.

13. Gibbons E. Stalking the Healthful Herbs. Putney, VT: Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc., 1989.

14. Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy: New Discoveries in Herbal Remedies for Common Diseases and Conditions from the World's Foremost Authority on Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997.

15. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc., 1999.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.

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