Itchy rashes are difficult to cope with, and people who have the misfortune of being allergic to poison ivy, oak or sumac well understand the suffering that follows after coming into contact with one of these plants. However, they may not fully understand what causes it.
Allergic components of poison ivy
The primary component in poison ivy that creates an allergic reaction is the plant's sap, called urushiol. After the oil comes into contact with skin, it quickly penetrates, but a reaction may not appear for a day or even longer. Several experts suggest approximately three out of four people react to coming into contact with poison ivy (or oak). Other estimates say up to 85 percent of Americans are allergic to the three-leafed plant. Unfortunately, the sap stays active for up to five years after the plant creates it, which means a person who touches something that has come into contact with urushiol can have a reaction all over again.
Contact that can trigger reactions
There are a few different ways that people come into contact with poison ivy, says WebMD. The first is obvious, direct contact with the plant's leaves or stem. Other ways people come into contact with the urushiol oil is from touching a pet or another item that had come into contact with the rash-causing plant. If poison ivy, oak or sumac is burned, it can release urushiol into the air, which can enter the body through breathing, or the smoke comes into contact with the eyes or skin.
What does a reaction look like?
Usually, a day or more after exposure, a rash will begin to emerge. Some people will experience a small, uncomfortable rash, in patches or streaks, while others may find that blisters rapidly spread throughout their body. Usually, the skin turns red in the afflicted area, and the rashes are extremely itchy. The rash can endure for five days, but for those having more severe reactions, it could take a couple of weeks to heal.
In the more severe cases, dangerous reactions can occur. For instance, breathing can be obstructed, the urushiol can enter the body's digestive tract or the itching may lead to a secondary infection. Not everyone who is allergic to these three plants will have the same reaction, and even individual reactions can change over time.
Sensitivity to poison ivy, oak or sumac can change over time
Some people may think they are immune to the rashes associated with these plants, but this might not be the case. Like other types of allergies, a person may experience no suffering or any kind of reaction the first time they come into contact, but may see one after future contact with the plant(s), with each time the reaction getting stronger. Although, as people get older, it could go the other way and a person may find his or her allergic reactions decrease over time.
A poisonous plant reaction is usually uncomfortable, but knowing how to recognize the plants and avoid them can help reduce the possibility of coming into contact. However, since it can be contracted in other ways, it is important to understand what can happen if you do come into contact with this plant that causes such discomfort. Learn how to recognize the plant and, if you are allergic, talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about the severity of your reaction and what you should do should you come into contact.