Allergic contact dermatitis is a skin reaction caused by direct contact with urushiol, the plant oil that causes the poison ivy rash. The most common causes of contact dermatitis are poison ivy and oak oils.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory reaction caused by contact with certain substances that your skin comes into contact with. Some of the most common are plant-based irritants, such as poison ivy or oak, and substance-related irritants, such as rubber gloves or some cosmetics.
If you suffer from contact dermatitis, it’s important to prevent exposure to irritants whenever possible and always wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with one of them. Additionally, some people find relief if they take certain over-the-counter medicines like antihistamines or natural supplements like quercetin.
Although contact dermatitis is most often caused by irritants, the skin can also be irritated by other things like chemicals from your hair products.
The most common symptom of contact dermatitis is redness, followed by itching and scaling. The symptoms tend to appear in areas that are regularly exposed to the irritant (such as the face or hands) and may include two or more of them occurring at once (such as both erythema and pruritus), although this depends on the individual and the severity of their reaction.
The most common cause of contact dermatitis is poison ivy exposure, but oak exposure is also fairly common (6%), while allergic reactions are surprisingly rare at only 0.5%. The reason for this is quite simple – poison ivy and oak secretions contain oils called urushiols that are highly irritating.
Contrary to popular belief, the most common form of contact dermatitis is not due to poison ivy (3-7%), but rather to chemicals in hair care products (38%). There are a variety of causes that can cause contact dermatitis, and they include medications, cosmetics, detergents, and insect stings.
A particularly common cause of contact dermatitis is poison ivy exposure, especially for children and pets. These secretions contain urushiols and are highly irritating to the skin. A few drops of urushiol can cause severe irritation, which may be followed by itching and blistering weeks later, although they often do not cause noticeable symptoms at first.
The most common cause of contact dermatitis is poison ivy exposure (3-14%), while oak exposure is also fairly common (6%). Causes include oak bark and leaves, along with their oil glands. These secretions contain oleoresin capsicol, which can be even more irritating than urushiol.
Sometimes, it is difficult to identify the cause of contact dermatitis. If you suffer from it frequently and are unsure as to what is causing your dermatitis, here are some suggestions:
- Wash your hands or use soap and water as often as possible, especially at work.
- Be careful with any cosmetic products that you use on your face, including makeup. Especially avoid using hairspray or other cosmetics if you know that they contain chemicals.
- Apply grease-cutting zinc oxide cream (available at a drug store) on any affected areas at night to help prevent rashes.
- Test any new soap or lotion before using it for the first time on an inconspicuous area of skin such as your inner arm. Use hypoallergenic cosmetics if you have a known allergy. It is also a good idea to use hypoallergenic soaps, which are usually marked as such on the package.
- If you have children, make sure they know how to recognize poison ivy and avoid it at all costs.
- People who suffer from contact dermatitis should consider wearing protective clothing, especially during summer months when poison ivy is most common.
- Clothing with thick seams, such as jeans or corduroys, is best.
- It is also advisable to wear shoes that will not rub up against the skin, since rubbing can bring any irritating substances into contact with your skin.
WARNING: If you develop a rash from exposure to poison ivy, consult your doctor immediately. It is possible to have an allergic reaction to urushiols that will require different treatment than simple contact dermatitis.
Poison Ivy Rash
A poison ivy rash is a telltale sign of an allergic reaction that requires immediate treatment. If you have a rash that is already formed, you should take your poison ivy victim to their doctor as soon as possible, even if the rash is not severe.
Contact dermatitis is relatively common and usually due to an irritant such as poison ivy.
If poison ivy is brought into contact with the skin, it can cause a rash. Rashes are very uncommon in people without contact dermatitis.
Poison Ivy Insect Repellent
The best insect repellent for poison oak and ivy is DEET-containing chemical spray or drops. These preparations are applied to the skin and provide an instant mosquito-repellent effect as the chemical reacts with the odor of the oak or ivy oil.
Although it is most effective at preventing insect bites, DEET can also be applied to furniture and other items that come into contact with your skin. There is a stronger version of this chemical known as permethrin, which can be effective in deterring ticks.
Poison Ivy Antidote
There are two poisons in poison ivy that can cause itching and skin inflammation when handled: oleoresin capsicum (OC) from poison ivy oil and urushiol from its oily resin glands. Urushiol, the oily substance that causes a reaction in humans and animals, can be readily extracted from poison ivy.
The amount of urushiol in an individual can vary depending on the variety of poison ivy growing at a particular time. Exposure to urushiol can also be avoided by wearing gloves while handling the plant, especially in areas where it has been previously sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Poison Ivy Plant Treatment
Oak and poison ivy have similar growing conditions: they are both deciduous and thrive in temperate climates (largely northern). The leaves, bark and branches of these plants are covered with a waxy substance (resin) that oozes out when cut or bruised.
When it oozes into the skin, the resin causes itchiness and inflammation. Toxic urushiol oozes out of poison ivy’s resin glands and can be extracted using an extractor, such as a coffee grinder.
Resin is a waxy substance that oozes from the poisonous plant into small punctures in the body when touched. The irritating substance can travel through clothing to cause an allergic reaction in vulnerable areas of skin, such as the groin or back of thighs.
In humans and other animals, exposure to urushiol can cause severe allergic reactions known as contact dermatitis that present as a serious rash called poison ivy rash.
Toxic urushiol also causes itching in some people who handle it frequently. If you handle poison ivy oil and then touch your face, the urushiol on your fingertips will travel through the capillary system of your skin and cause an allergic reaction in nearby areas.
Exposure to urushiol is a major source of contact dermatitis among the general population.
There are several common methods of treatment for poison ivy allergies. The first step is to wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water, wait a couple of hours for it to dry, and apply a topical antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin).
The second step is to apply a topical steroid ointment (such as Cortaid or Desitin) and a barrier cream (such as Balmex or Cetaphil) every two to three hours for at least five days. If the rash is bad enough, you may require prescription corticosteroids and antihistamines, which are safe for adults but not babies.
A poison ivy rash can take up to ten days to appear after exposure, so it is important that you seek treatment for any skin that was exposed more than five days ago.
The best way to prevent the rash is to treat the skin immediately after exposure, before any contact with the oil. Immediately treat any area if you have come in contact with poison ivy , poison oak, or poison sumac and have a rash anywhere on your body.
Treatment for Poison Ivy Rash
Stop scratching immediately! Scratching can cause bacterial infection, scarring, and discolouration. If you cannot avoid scratching your skin due to extreme itching (which is rare), use something other than your nails, such as a dull object or a waterproof bandage.
In this situation, scratching should be limited to the most itch-prone areas.
Preventing Skin Irritation
The best way to prevent skin irritation is to prevent contact with allergens. Skin rashes and allergies to sunscreens, jewellery, and fragrances are common. Fortunately, most rashes can be prevented by:
- Always using sunscreen. Sunscreen is a must for anyone with eczema or inflammatory skin disease because it blocks the burning effects of UV rays on sensitive skin.
- Always wear protective clothing, including long pants, long sleeves, and gloves.
- Wear a hat outdoors. Make sure you choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Always keep sunscreens out of the reach of children.
- Keep the body covered as much as possible, especially in warm weather when it is difficult to avoid contact with the sun or poison ivy or oak during peak times.
- Be careful using cosmetics that may contain poison ivy or oak oil, especially if you are prone to allergic reactions.
Preventing Contact Dermatitis
Skin irritation from contact with poison ivy can be prevented by:
- Wear protective clothing whenever possible.
- Always wear protective clothing whenever possible.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after coming in contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. If poison ivy is on the skin, remove it immediately with rubbing alcohol.
- When working in areas where leaves of poison ivy are present (for example, during summer), wear gloves to protect exposed areas of skin from exposure to urushiol oils.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing when wading in lakes or other bodies of water where poison ivy grows naturally.
- Also avoid wading in shallow, stagnant water because it provides the ideal environment for the growth of fungus and bacteria that can cause skin disease.
- The best way to prevent contact with poison ivy and other skin irritants is to avoid them.
- Wear long pants and long sleeves when outdoors and watch where you put your hands throughout the day.
FAQs: Contact dermatitis
If you suffer from contact dermatitis, it’s important to prevent exposure to irritants whenever possible and always wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with one of them.
If you notice your skin is becoming irritated, your doctor can prescribe treatment options including anti-itch creams and steroid injections.
Do I need an allergy doctor?
Yes. Contact dermatitis is a skin condition so it’s best to see an expert in this field who can treat your symptoms and develop a plan for avoiding or limiting exposure to irritants.
What can happen if I don’t see an allergy doctor?
If you don’t get treatment, you could experience skin irritation, discomfort and even flames in your hands. This is a severe allergic reaction that needs to be treated right away.
What is contact dermatitis?
When sensitive skin comes in contact with a specific chemical, it can become inflamed and cause itching, redness and pain. Common irritants include detergents and cosmetics but it can also happen when you touch certain foods or medications.
What causes my hands to burn when I touch something with my sensitive skin?
Contact dermatitis happens when your body reacts to something that has been in direct contact with your skin. It can also occur when you’ve gotten into a chemical, such as from shampoos or soaps, which is why it’s important to learn about which products to avoid.
What can I do about this?
If you’re experiencing contact dermatitis, there are many different treatment options depending on your symptoms. Many prescription products such as corticosteroids will help to reduce inflammation and antihistamines will help with itching.
You may also want to try anti-itch creams which can help with symptoms and reduce the temptation to scratch.
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