Summer is prime time for enjoying the outdoors - hiking, biking, and taking Fido on the trails. But just like all fairytales, there’s something lurking in the forest! Every year, we can count on at least one incidence of contact dermatitis from the “poison” plant family. Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are known for their ability to create redness, itching, and oozing of the skin when one comes into contact with it. The poisonous quality of these plants is a chemical known as urushiol, which can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people.
Urushiol can be found in all parts of these plants: leaves, stem, seeds, flowers, berries and roots. That means you can get a rash if you come into contact with ANY PART of the plant. It’s a race against the clock to wash the urushiol off immediately upon exposure (soap and water is all you need). After 10 minutes about only 50% of the urushiol will come off and after an hour… it’s too late. Interestingly, other plants related to poison ivy that can also cause hypersensitivity reactions include cashew nut trees, mango trees and Japanese lacquer trees. These can all cause similar rashes. In older Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) texts, allergic contact dermatitis is actually referred to as “Lacquer Sores”. The more severe conditions take up to two weeks to be resolved and scratching the rash can lead to secondary infections.
Steps you can take to make it better!
Most of us remember a time as kids when your mom dolloped Calamine lotion on your rashes and bites, leaving you looking like a spotted, pink leopard. Calamine lotion is still a great tool in your “itch arsenal” and is used as a topical in Chinese medicine as well. However, in TCM there are internal herbs that can be taken to more quickly reduce itching, inflammation and discomfort.
In Chinese Medicine, the diagnosis for poison ivy is Wind Damp Heat with Toxins and herbs are extremely helpful in reducing the accompanying symptoms of itching and inflammation. Eczemed ™ contains a blend of 10 herbs that help cool the blood (heat inthe blood can cause eruptions such as the bumps of a rash), resolve toxicity (a fancy way of saying “get rid of the irritants,” like urushiol), dispel wind (acts like a natural antihistamine to relieve itching) and drain dampness (dry the pustules). It’s a particularly useful product when you’ve failed to wash the urushiol off your skin in time! Other recommendations to help you manage the discomfort include:
1) Scrub under the fingernails with a brush to prevent the plant oil from spreading to other parts of the body.
2) Wash clothing and shoes with soap and hot water. The plant oils can linger on them.
3) Immediately bathe animals to remove the oils from their fur. After a hike, we always spray our pups with a waterless shampoo. We particularly love the Burt’s Bees Apple & Honey Waterless Dog Shampoo.
4) Body heat and sweating can aggravate the itching. Stay cool and apply cool compresses to your skin.
6) Bathing in lukewarm water with an oatmeal bath product, available in drugstores, may soothe itchy skin.
There are plenty of images of these plants online and it’s important to familiarize yourself with what these plants look like so they can be avoided. But hopefully the above recommendations will provide some relief when you get a little closer to nature than you intended!