• Poison Ivy

    Poison Ivy

    Warm weather and those little leaves are growing. The allergy to poison ivy and oak is so common that nearly half of us will have it. The chemical that we react to is called Uroshiol. It has no color or odor but can lead to weeks of suffering as it is the leading cause of contact dermatitis in America. We often explain contact dermatitis as a poison ivy reaction. One touch and this chemical starts a chain reaction that can lead to itching, blistering, and suffering that few can ever forget. The initial reaction may take two weeks to arrive as we become allergic for the first time, but any exposure after that may happen in only two days.

    The leaves of poison ivy and poison oak are easily spotted and avoided. The leaves grow as three leaves from one point. The plant is an ivy and tries to climb on other plants, fences, and trees. The phrase to remember is “Leaves of three, let them be.”

    The classic presentation is linear red patches with blisters on the arms and legs. The palms are not effected as the skin is too thick for the uroshiol of the poison ivy to penetrate. But the sides and top of the fingers do get the reaction and any of the uroshiol on the hands can be spread to other areas of the body. The plant doesn’t have to touch your face, but wiping sweat or rubbing the face can lead to some fantastically uncomfortable reactions. I have seen many people have one eye completely shut from the swelling of a lid. The poison ivy reaction can also be spread when we go to the bathroom and this can lead to some of the least happy patients any dermatology office will see.

    Animals can lead to poison ivy as they often will march through the plants and then come into contact with their owners. This can present as bizarre patterns anywhere on the body. I have seen this on the lap from small dogs many times. Keep them leashed or fenced.

    Burning the leaves of poison ivy or poison oak is a risk for inhalation of the uroshiol. This can lead to severe respiratory distress and even death.

    So watch where you walk and look for the leaves of three. If you get poison ivy you can try OTC hydrocortisone and antihistamines, but most people need to be seen by a professional to calm the reaction. Mecklenburg county, Union county, and York county are fertile ground for these plants.

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