Poison ivy, oak and sumac are three plants which all produce an oil called Urushiol. It is this oil that causes people to get contact dermatitis, which consists of a rash, blisters and/or hives. As with any allergen, it does not cause a reaction in everyone, and some people may react more severely than others.
Life has granted me the wonderful learning experience of how I react to poison ivy. When doing some yard work 2 weekends ago I received a small scratch on my forearm. I only noticed it because there was also some black substance on it. I thought was dirt or tree sap. It was a little difficult to wash off and I had to scrape it a bit to remove all the black.
By the end of the next day I noticed the scratch seemed to have two small blisters in it and it was red and wet. Unperturbed, I put a band-aid and triple antibiotic cream on it. For the rest of the week I continued to do this but the scratch developed a red rash around it and another line of small blisters appeared nearby. When the weekend rolled around I had switched to gauze and tape in order to cover the whole thing. I was also alternating between antibiotic cream and hydrocortisone cream per the local pharmacist’s advice.
Then the next week, seemingly out of the blue, a cluster blisters showed up on my elbow. By the end of the day the whole back of my forearm was covered in red bumps and blisters. Needless to say this prompted a visit to my doctor.
She took one look and knew immediately that it was a severe reaction to poison ivy. My doctor did say that normally they use a topical steroid cream but since my reaction was so widely spread she prescribed an oral steroid.
Out of this experience I have learned the following things:
– Avoid using band-aids or tape around the rash. It adds to the skin irritation and can cause it to spread more. Instead, use gauze pads and rolled gauze bandages
– Normal rashes can be treated with hydrocortisone cream. Alternate with triple antibiotic cream if it’s actually broken the skin and is oozing.
– You don’t have to cover the rash. The rash itself is not contagious even if blistering or leaking fluid. If it is oozing, than you may prefer to cover it simply to absorb the fluid. (In my case, I cover it because it looks really nasty as you can see for yourself in the pictures!)
– Reactions to the urushiol can take several days to appear. Therefore sometimes new rashes or blisters will show up even after you’ve already had a visible reaction. It depends on how much of the oil you came in contact with and how much of your skin was exposed to it.
– Contact your doctor if the rash seems to be spreading or if you’re developing a large area of reactions. Your doctor can prescribe you a steroid cream, or in severe cases, and oral steroid to aid in calming the allergic reactions.
What is Urushiol?
WebMD Topic Overview of Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac