Wild ivy is a plant responsible for the appearance of contact dermatitis, an allergenic skin rash that occurs in contact with this plant. The characteristic skin rash is in the form of red lines, brightly colored, itchy, and very uncomfortable, accompanied by blisters or hives. This type of dermatitis, also known as plant dermatitis, is one of the most common allergic problems caused by direct contact with wild plants.
When in contact with the skin, this toxic substance causes an allergic skin reaction. Specialists believe that this compound is so toxic that only 1 nanogram is needed to produce a skin reaction. The compound remains active for even 5 years (e.g., on dead leaves or trees), so allergy doesn’t need to be determined by fresh secretion.
Oil is present on all sides of the plant (leaves, flowers, fruits, roots). The oil can cause allergic reactions both through direct and indirect contact, by touching contaminated clothing, animal fur, garden utensils, or other objects which have come into contact with the plant. It is not compulsory for the oil to cause a skin reaction to all persons who come into contact with it. In order for such a reaction to occur, it is essential that the individual has a predisposing allergic ground.
Oil in poisonous ivy can cause allergic reactions to 60-80% of people who come into contact with it.
Should I cover the poison ivy rash?
Light skin rash caused by poison ivy can be treated at home. Many of these cause discomfort due to itching, a burning sensation, or blistering. You can apply compresses soaked in cold water or actually sink the area (if possible) in cold water, in order to improve the leek and encourage the withdrawal of the vesicles. Severe skin rash, which covers a larger part of the body, requires medical treatment.
Signs and symptoms
- The appearance of erythema, red area, in the contact area of the plant and the skin;
- Popping vesicles from which a fluid, odorless, liquid can flow
Skin rash occurs after a variable interval between 8 and 48 hours after the contact with plant oil, but specialists say that this interval can also be between 5 to 15 days. Everything depends on the reactivity of the person’s immune system. After the first contact with the toxin, the reaction will appear slower (about a week later), but the next reaction will be felt much more quickly, just after a few hours or 1-2 days. Along with the evolution of the eruption (which may take several days), the signs can be observed in other skin regions, but only in those areas that have come into contact (either directly or by scratching) with the oil.
The poison ivy rash is not contagious, so the patient cannot transmit it to others around him even if the citrine liquid is leaking from the vesicular.
In the absence of treatment, such an allergic reaction can last between 10 days and 3 weeks. In the case of hypoallergenic patients to poison ivy, the condition can be prolonged for up to 6 weeks!
The diagnosis of an allergic eruption caused by contact with wild ivy and its toxic product can be established by presenting yourself to the doctor during the acute period of the eruption. Most often, the patient’s physical examination will also be completed with the anamnesis, so the doctor can find out if there has been direct contact with such a plant or other similar to it.
- Remove the clothing that came in contact with the plant and that touches the affected area, and wash it thoroughly
- Gently wash the affected skin; immediately clean it with water and soap along with the side under the nails
- Cut your fingernails as short as possible so that they do not cause damage to the skin when scratching
- Put cool compressions on your skin, as needed
- For itching: Add oats flour to the bathwater; use a lotion with calamine (this is not applied on your face or on intimate area); if necessary, children may take diphenhydramine (an antiallergic medicine).
Ask for medical help if:
- The skin rash covers a large part of the body or it is located on the face or on the genital area.
- The eruption is getting worse, despite the treatment.
- The skin seems infected, it is red, warm, painful, inflated, or with pus.
Ask for emergency medical assistance if:
- You have a known severe allergy to poisonous ivy.
- Swelling occurs in the tongue or neck
- You complain of the feeling of chest tightness or difficulty in breathing.
- You develop eruption or edema in large areas.
- You already received an epinephrine injection.
In general, the moderate eruption that occurs as a result of allergic reactions to poison ivy can also be treated at home. The recommended measures for home treatment can improve symptoms and improve the patient’s condition, but do not speed up the cure of the eruption.
Moderate to severe reactions should be treated by a specialist doctor. He can recommend corticosteroid to patients, drugs that can improve the eruption much more quickly and favor its disappearance as well.
In serious cases, the patient must contact an emergency service, because the allergy can evolve and become complicated with respiratory problems. In such cases, doctors may even recommend the patient to accept hospitalization for a few days and to monitor him in intensive care.
A frequent complication may be, especially if the patient’s immune system is compromised, bacterial overgrowth of lesions or blisters. If such a situation occurs, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to the patient.
The skin rash which characterizes the allergy to poisonous ivy or other wild plants is in most cases moderate in intensity and therefore does not require medication. It is preferred to avoid it where possible because its side effects are not at all negligible.
The therapeutic recommendations received by patients are intended to improve their general condition and symptoms, and include:
- Immediate cleaning of the area and the tegument which was in contact with the poisonous ivy. In some situations, the rash can be completely avoided if the patient is very careful and he noticed the irritating area and washes it with cold water within the first 10-15 minutes. Most of the toxic oil is absorbed by the skin within the first 30 minutes, therefore washing the skin has real therapeutic advantages. It is also recommended to clean the clothes that have come into contact with the plants (the presence of oil on their surface will cause new allergic reactions, no matter how much time passes since the contamination). Even the possibly contaminated areas must be cleaned. It is recommended to be done with sanitary alcohol.
- Application of compresses soaked in cold water or to actually soak the whole area (if possible) in cold water, in order to improve the pruritus and favor the withdrawal of blisters.
- Avoid scratching the area on which the allergic eruption is located. This may cause scratch injuries that will over-infect and prevent healing.
If the allergic eruption is moderate to severe, if it extends or significantly affects the quality of the patient’s life, it is recommended to introduce specialized medication.
Antihistamine can be administered in order to improve the symptoms. They are effective both for curing and for healing the blisters. This type of medicine is capable of blocking the action of a very important mediator of inflammation, called histamine. Histamine is released from some cells during the cascade of immune reactions preceding the clinical appearance of symptoms, and its presence promotes the maintenance of the results in the respective tissue (tegument). Antihistamines can also be used without medical prescription, but patients are advised to consult at least the pharmacist before buying such a product. Parents should not administer such medication to children without the consent of the doctor, because if the maximum dose is exceeded, toxic effects may occur.
Severe skin rash responds much better to corticosteroids. They stimulate the healing process and disappearance of the eruption. The results are spectacular, but there are certain reactions that limit their use. However, applied or administered rarely, corticosteroids are effective and safe in stimulating the recovery of the eruption. There is currently a very wide range of products, including paste and injectable solutions (most effective, and which specialists often use) or ointments and preparations intended for local use.
The “barrier” effect lotions and creams are very effective for the patients who know that they have allergies to such plants but intend, for various reasons, to go through areas where they can be found. They work as a protective wall as they prevent the oil of poisonous ivy from coming into contact with the skin. They should be applied at the latest one hour before the contact, in a layer as thick as possible and without leaving areas of skin uncovered. The product must then be washed within 4 hours, preferably as soon as the person has entered the house, or after leaving the poisonous ivy’s habitat area. For permanent protection, it is recommended to apply a new layer of cream every 4 hours. Creams of this type have a variable potency and do not provide safe and complete protection.
The treatment of the most common complication of skin rash caused by poisonous ivy, meaning an infection of the lesions and bacterial over-infection of the vesicles, can be carried out with antibiotics. They can be applied locally if they are in the form of creams, or oral, when the situation is more severe, the lesions are spread and the infection is deeper.
Remember! Specialists do not recommend that patients use the following drugs to improve symptoms or to speed up the healing of rash, as they may also cause allergic reactions of their own:
- Anti-histamines in the form of creams, gels, or sprays;
- Local benzocaine-based anesthetics,
- Antibiotics containing neomycin.
There is no surgical treatment to treat the allergic eruptions of poisonous ivy.
Other forms of treatment
If the patient has certain risk factors (particularly professional) that make him susceptible to getting in contact with poisonous ivy, it may be recommended to use desensitization therapy. Within this therapy, the patient is frequently brought into contact with antigens identical to those of the poisonous ivy oil, but in low concentrations at the beginning.
The role of the immune system
Normally, the role of the immune system is to provide protection against foreign particles reaching the body. These particles can be bacteria, viruses, various dust, chemicals, and many others.
Allergic reactions are an example of the case in which the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks, using important resources, inert particles that do not harm the organism. In addition, the cells retain the first contact with the possible antigen and whenever they encounter it again, they immediately start the immune attack against it. These reactions are very intense and lead to the release of the mediators of the inflammation, the release of cytokines as well as other very aggressive substances that have only one purpose: the destruction of the invaders. Unfortunately, the benefits of destroying inert particles are insignificant compared to the disadvantages such a chain reaction has on the entire organism. In the end, the skin, the respiratory tract, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system are affected and the functions are recovered with great difficulty.
Specialists have identified certain risk factors, which may increase the probability for some individuals to develop an allergy to poisonous ivy in time. The most important risk factors are:
Profession: gardener, forest worker;
Hobby: Fishing, open-air camping, mountain hiking.
The risk of allergic reactions varies with the age, the state of immunity of the organism, the number, and the intensity of contact with the antigen.
Specialists that can be consulted
If the situation appears to be more serious, the eruption is expanded, and signs of complications appear, the patient can address the following specialists:
– Family doctor;
– The internist;
– Pediatrician (in the case of children);
The prevention of allergic reactions to the oil secreted by poisonous ivy can be done only if the patient knows that he has abnormal reactivity and avoids areas where these plants are present. Their recognition is also very important. Specialists insist that allergic individuals wear long pants, long-sleeve clothing at every exit (even in summer) and to have permanent creams (or ointments) with antihistamine which can reduce the intensity of allergic reaction as quickly as possible.
Show your child images of poisonous ivy, to know to avoid them. Explain to him how important it is for him not to touch them. Make sure he wears long pants and long-sleeve shirts when playing near these plants. Teach your child to wash his hands well after he’s been playing outside.
Specialists DO NOT recommend that patients eat or inhale the smoke resulting from its burning, as homeopathic treatment measures. Studies have shown that allergic reactions occur at least as serious, if not more serious, taking into account the predilection damage to the respiratory tract, or digestive system.
If you suspect that you have come into contact with poisonous ivy, it is very important to wash your skin as quickly as possible with abundant cold water. Such a measure applied promptly, within 10-15 minutes, may facilitate the removal of toxic poisonous ivy oils from the skin surface and prevent the occurrence of an allergy.