Just about everyone knows that poison ivy and poison oak will cause a very uncomfortable rash after only a few minutes of exposure for some unfortunate people. But almost any plant, even those in the garden, may cause a rash in sensitive people. Contact dermatitis differs from other rashes that occur from systemic conditions, such as illness, in which rashes are generalised. In contact dermatitis, the rash will be localised in the places where the contact occurred.
Contact plant dermatitis is the medical name for a rash that occurs after exposure of the plant allergen on the skin. Poison ivy and oak are the most common and familiar forms. While some people are obviously extremely allergic to poison ivy and break out in itching, oozing misery from one exposure, other people, even relatives, can touch poison ivy with no reaction at all. Thus it is clear that one person may be much more sensitive to allergens in plants than the next.
Prevention of exposure to possible allergens is the logical strategy for the problem of contact dermatitis. In the case of recognisable allergens such as poison ivy, the sensitive person can learn to stay away from the irritant, but there are an unfortunate few who do not know what plant or flower or grass will trigger a rash. Exposure to prickly weeds and plants such as nettles and barbed roses may cause rashes on some sensitive persons. Wearing gloves and long sleeves will be a sensible precaution when handling such plants. Unfortunately, some plants that cause rashes are neither prickly nor weedy and can include very common garden vegetables and flowers such as tomatoes and hollyhocks. There is simply no way to predict a reaction to these plants except by experience.
When Rash Appears
When the rash appears on a person who has experienced severe poison ivy allergy, a series of doses of cortisone and the application of topical steroids are usually required. Other forms of contact dermatitis are likely to be much less severe and require less extreme treatment, but some form of treatment may be necessary to relieve the symptoms. After being exposed to a plant that might cause a reaction, take a shower immediately to wash off the oily or dry residue.
Every drugstore is stocked with anti-itch remedies from calamine lotion to topical hydrocortisone creams, all of which will relieve symptoms of itching and burning to some extent. One of the oldest treatments is finely ground oatmeal dissolved in a warm bath. These soothing remedies plus camphor, menthol and benadryl ointment usually will provide relief until the rash disappears.
Like the sufferer from poison ivy or poison oak, the patient with some other plant contact allergy may reach the point that prescription treatment is necessary. The most common treatment includes a sequence of steroid injections or tablets taken over a period of days. Other treatments may include anti-allergy medications such as Claritin, Alavert and Zyrtec, as well as prescription topical ointments containing steroids.