We’ve talked bugs, so now let’s talk about plants & other possible skin irritants that you may experience in the great outdoors! When something that you have touched irritates your skin and leads to rashes or other skin conditions, we call that “contact dermatitis.” There are two main types of contact dermatitis:
*Irritant Contact Dermatitis: this type occurs when something damages the outer layers of skin. This type is often occupational, occurring when someone has so much contact with a chemical (or even water!) that it starts to damage the skin. This is typical with people who work with hair dyes, oils, paints & varnishes, and foods, just to name a few.
*Allergic Contact Dermatitis: this one happens when people are allergic to a substance in whatever it is that they just touched. Someone can even get this type of reaction after years of contact with a particular thing (i.e. an allergy can develop later in life). Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include poison ivy, fragrances, latex, nail cosmetics & nickel. Sweating and UV rays can often trigger or exacerbate a reaction.
(Photo from the AAD)
What are some common plants to look out for?
Poison ivy, poison oak & sumac are the most common plants that cause rashes (contact dermatitis) that you may run into.
As a child, you may have heard the phrase “leaves of three, let them be!” Very true! Poison ivy & Poison oak both have clusters with three leaves on them. Depending on the season, they may have yellow flowers, as well.
Poison oak does not have “leaves of three” so please see the link below for an image. This link also has pictures of poison ivy & poison oak, along with what the resulting rash typically looks like. A few other plants that can cause skin reactions are also included:
Everyday Health: Could these plants give you a rash?
How do I treat a rash that seems to be contact dermatitis?
*Wash the skin with soap and warm water as soon as possible. Plant oils penetrate the skin quickly, so wash the area within the first 30 minutes if you are able. Make sure to get under your fingernails (with a brush if you have one) so that you do not accidentally spread the plant oil to another part of the body.
*The plant oils can remain on clothing, shoes, tools, etc for a long time; wash anything that came in contact with the plant with soap & hot water (for tools, you can use rubbing alcohol or a mild bleach solution)
*Apply cool compresses to the skin. This is not helps reduce inflammation & feels good, but heat & sweating can make the area even more irritated, so try to stay cool!
*Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to help with the itching & blistering
*Bathe in lukewarm water with oatmeal. This can help soothe the itchy skin.
*If the itching is still intense and/or not going away, you may want to consider taking an antihistamine such as Zyrtec.
*Do not burn these plants. Sometimes people will find the leaves on their clothing and then toss it into the campfire. The smoke from burning these plants can cause you (or those in the neighboring campsite) very serious allergic reactions because you are breathing it into your nasal passages & throat.
Should I go to the doctor?
The rash typically lasts 1-3 weeks, so do not be surprised about that, but if you are still experiencing other symptoms or you are at all concerned, please do contact your doctor. If you see or experience any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room ASAP as these could be signs of a severe & possibly fatal allergic reaction:
*You have trouble breathing or swallowing
*The rash is covering most of your body or you have multiple rashes and/or blisters
*Swelling (esp. if an eyelid swells shut)
*The rash is one your face (anywhere) or genitals
*Your skin is incredibly itchy and nothing can alleviate that itch
*If you inhaled the smoke from the plant (as mentioned above, this can be very serious)
For more information, please visit:
AAD: Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac (http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/m---p/poison-ivy)
AAD: Contact Dermatitis (http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/contact-dermatitis)
Medline Plus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000027.htm )