The poison ivy and poison oak plants contain oil known as urushiol. It is important to note that urushiol is not only present in the leaves of the plants but also in the roots and stems. The oil is capable of triggering an allergic reaction and produces an itchy rash on parts of the body where it came in contact with. The itchiness, reddening of the skin and blisters can manifest within 12-72 hours after initial exposure of the individual to the oil.
Exposure with urushiol
Urushiol is typically found in all parts of the plant even if they are already dead. Always bear in mind that the oil is rapidly absorbed into the skin upon exposure. In some cases, it can also be inhaled if the plants were burned.
Urushiol is readily transferred from one object to another, thus tools or clothing that come in contact with the plants or pets that rub against them can easily pick up the oil of the plant and spread it to others. The initial exposure of the skin to urushiol seldom triggers an allergic reaction. With constant exposure, sensitivity of the individual to urushiol develops.
Identifying the plants
The saying “leaflets of three, beware of me” can help identify poison ivy and poison oak while out in the wilderness whether hiking or camping. It is important to note that every leaf on both poison ivy and poison oak has three smaller leaflets. The center leaflet has a longer stalk than the two on the sides.
Difference of the rashes
The rash from poison ivy can appear as itchy skin on parts of the body that was touched by the plant. It is accompanied by red-colored streaks or generalized redness where the plant brushed against the skin. Hives which appear as small-sized bumps or large elevated areas can appear. The blisters are filled with fluid that can leak out.
Poison oak rash is similar to the skin reaction similar to poison ivy. The reason for this is that it is triggered by the same substance – urushiol. The rash can cause intense itchiness similar to poison ivy.
It is important to note that the rash is not contagious. An individual will not catch or spread the rash after it manifests even if the rash is touched or the blister fluid. Remember that the urushiol has already been absorbed or washed off the skin. In most cases, the rash might appear to spread but it might still be developing from earlier exposure or the individual touched something that still has urushiol on it.
Considerations to bear in mind
The rash from poison ivy or poison oak can be severe and even become infected if not kept clean. If there are blisters that ooze pus or the individual develops fever higher than 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C) or if the rash becomes worse within a few weeks, a doctor should be consulted since infection has developed.