What is Contact Dermatitis?


Contact Dermatitis

These lectures are not meant to replace your physician and are simply provided as a free educational service to all our visitors. If you feel that you have a skin problem, please see your doctor.

Contact dermatitis due to plants is a common allergic skin condition that is caused by developing an allergy to an oil in the leaves of certain plants. The common plants which cause this are well known as POISON IVY, POISON OAK AND POISON SUMAC. Not all persons can develop this allergy. Thus, if two individuals are exposed to the leaves of these plants, only the one who is allergic to it can get the rash.

After exposure, a period of time elapses before the rash appears. This is usually 8 to 72 hours. When the rash appears depends on how much of the oil got onto your skin, and how allergic you are to the oil. If a skin area got a lot of the oil on it, it will break out first, and areas with less oil exposure break out several days later.

WASHING THE AREA WITH STRONG LAUNDRY SOAP OR THE USE OF OTHER CHEMICAL APPLICATIONS AFTER EXPOSURE DOES NOT STOP THE RASH FROM APPEARING IN AN ALLERGIC PERSON. IN FACT, IF THE SKIN WAS IRRITATED BY THESE MATERIALS, IT CAN OFTEN MAKE THE CONDITION WORSE.

The rash often appears in the form of linear streaks and blotches which are red and itch. The skin can be very swollen and water blisters may form. With more severe reactions, the skin may actually ooze and weep a clear fluid.

THIS CONDITION IS NOT CONTAGIOUS. THE CLEAR FLUID THAT COMES OUT OF THE RASH WILL NOT SPREAD THE RASH TO OTHER AREAS OF YOUR SKIN OR TO OTHER PEOPLE. YOU CANNOT GET THIS RASH FROM TOUCHING ANY PART OF IT. IF NEW AREAS APPEAR, THESE MAY REPRESENT AREAS WHERE SMALLER AMOUNTS OF THE OIL CAME INTO CONTACT WITH THE SKIN AT THE TIME OF INITIAL EXPOSURE OR YOU ARE STILL COMING INTO CONTACT WITH THE PLANT OIL FROM A HIDDEN SOURCE.

For that reason you MUST wash all clothing worn at the time of exposure which may still have some of the plant oil on it. Washing can be done with any washing agent in your washer. The clothes can be safely mixed into any load of clothes which did not have the oil on them. This will inactivate the oil and prevent it from causing another area to break out. Shoes may be wiped off with alcohol. Any garden tools, sports or camping equipment used at the time of exposure MUST also be washed.

You MUST also avoid contact with other sources of the allergic material that causes this rash. The same material is also found in INDIA INK, JAPANESE LACQUER, THE OIL OF THE CASHEW NUT AND IN MANGOES.

Dogs and cats, when they get any of the allergic materials on their coats, do not get the rash themselves. However, they can rub the material onto the skin of people and cause the rash! You MUST prevent your pet from going to areas where the allergic materials reside.

Anytime severe itching persists, use a product that is formulated in a soothing, emollient base, such as Sarna Lotion. Sarna Lotion is an excellent anti-itch lotion that will provide immdediate relief of itchy skin. Sarna contains 0.5% each of camphor and menthol to provide the immediate sensation of a cool anti-itch lotion. In those conditions that are characterized by chronic and recurrent itchy skin, Sarna Lotion provides the relief to calm the irritating and antagonizing symptom of itch.

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