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Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin becomes inflamed, red, sore and irritating after coming in contact with a substance. Contact dermatitis may occur when the skin comes in contact with the sap of Poison oak plant. This is an allergic reaction and causes the skin to inflame and become sore. The sap of this plant may be contacted from a plant, ashes of burned plant or from animals.

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Objects that come in contact with the plant may also contain the sap meaning that if you touch it or it comes in contact with your skin, you develop an allergic reaction. Poison oak, poison ivy as well as poison sumac are plants, which have an extract of irritating oily sap. This sap is called urushiol and it can trigger allergic reactions.

Urushiol sap is found in all parts of the plant such as stems, roots, and leaves. In addition, the sap may also be present after the plant has died. Urushiol sap is absorbed quickly on skin and it could also be inhaled when the plant is burned. When the sap is inhaled, it can cause very severe allergic reaction on the nasal passage, lungs and the throat.

The skin is not automatically sensitive to poison oak sap and what happens is that when the skin is exposed to this sap, it alerts the immune system that there is an irritating chemical. In the first contact with the sap, there may be no visible reaction and this is because, already the body has not defined this as a foreign substance. When the first contact occurs, the body then prepares a defensive reaction and this will be seen on the second and other successive encounters with the plant’s sap.

Poison oak rash – symptoms

People who come in contact with poison oak show reaction on the skin. Redness and itching are typical. A rash erupts with patterns of streaks or patches, which appear where the plant has come in contact with the skin. The rashes develop into red bumps known as papules or blisters, which can ooze and release clear fluid.

There is swelling or inflammation of the skin. Moreover, there is a burning sensation. The symptoms may also affect eyes and mouth besides the skin. When urushiol sap is inhaled, an allergic reaction may occur in throat and lungs as well as the nasal passage.

How do people show sensitivity to the sap?

It is estimated that three in four persons in North America develop sensitivity of the sap released by poison oak, poison sumac and poison ivy. These three plants are common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. The degree of sensitivity will vary from one person to another.

While some people may show very sensitive reactions, others will have mild reactions. You may have people reacting to the sap immediately they come in contact with it while others may take some time. People who are less sensitive to exposure of this substance may require a large amount of sap before they develop allergic reaction.

Diagnosis of poison oak rash and remedies

Diagnosis of this condition is based on patterns of symptoms and the appearance of skin rash. If a person develops an allergic reaction to this sap, it cannot be cured and therefore treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. There are different ways you can manage the symptoms and they include taking cool showers and applying over-the-counter lotions.

Calamine lotion can help relieve itching. If you have a severe reaction, medication may be prescribed. If the reaction involves mucus membrane found in mouth, eyes, nose and genitals, you may be prescribed medications like prednisone. This will help control the reaction.

If you come in contact with poison oak sap, you should wash the affected skin with soap and water. By quickly washing the area, you prevent a reaction but this will not help if you do it after 1 hour or so. If it enters the eye, you should flush with water.  Objects that are contaminated like clothes or other surfaces should be washed carefully in hot soapy water.

The items or clothes should not touch any other material or clothing. In addition, you may use antihistamine like Benadryl to help relieve the itching. Similarly, you may also use steroid cream to relieve itching.

When to call a doctor

If after being exposed to poison oak sap, you experience the following signs, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

  • Severe reaction like swelling and difficulties in breathe
  • When exposed to smoke from burning poison oak
  • If the rash covers a larger part of your body
  • If a rash occurs on lips, eyes, face and genitals
  • If initial treatment does not show relieve of symptoms
  • When fever develops after an exposure to the sap
  • If you develop a rash which shows signs of infection such as pus, yellow fluid that oozes, and blisters accompanied by odor. 

In essence, contact dermatitis arising from exposure to poison oak is not contagious and may show different sensitivity signs in different people. The allergic reaction can be managed if you take proper actions after you have had an exposure.

Poison Oak Rash Pictures

What does Poison Oak look like – Pictures


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