Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feeling Itchy After That Hike?

Don't ignore it! It could be an allergic contact dermatitis also known as poison ivy. More common culprits are either poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac-which contain an oily substance called urushiol that causes a red, bumpy rash on your skin. If you get lucky, you're one of the 25% group that don't react to it.
If you think you accidentally touched these plants, wash the area with soap and water right away. As much as possible, do it within 15-20 minutes. you may stop a reaction. If longer than that, the urushiol has usually penetrated the skin and washing won't help prevent the rash, although it can reduce the severity.
Be sure to wash all clothings, boots or tools that you used. If the oil isn't removed in any of those, it can still cause a reaction weeks or months later.

Of course, the key to avoid the rash in the first place is knowing what these plants look like so to avoid them. Here are the descriptions of each plant to help you identify them.
  • Poison Sumac - a tree seen in swamps and watery ares in the eastern part of the US. Leaves are oval-shaped with a pointed tip that run in pairs along the stem, often with one leaf sticking out at the end; it produces cream-colored berries in the fall season.
  • Poison Ivy - is a vine found in woods and open fields in the eastern half of the US. Leaves are sometimes almond-shaped, and they grow in 3's. They also produce creamy white berries in fall.
  • Poison oak - is a shrub found both in eastern and western parts of the US. Leaves are shaped like oak leaves which turn red color in the fall.

The only FDA-approved over-the-counter barrier cream that contains bentoquatam is Ivyblock (check it at It's an ingredient that prevents the skin from absorbing urushiol from poison ivy, oak and sumac, says Dr. Fowler, a dermatology clinical professor at University of Louisville.
You can use it as you would a sunscreen. Be sure to apply to exposed areas 30 minutes before outdoor activity like hiking or gardening.