Rashes from Plants

The Allergists McLean VA Trust for Plant Rash Treatment
With the advent of summer, many people in Gainesville, VA, Falls Church, VA, Tysons Corner, VA, as well as the rest of the Washington, DC metropolitan area, are experiencing various types of rashes after outdoor activities.

“Irritant contact dermatitis” develops in individuals with very sensitive skin when they handle plants with prickles or barbs.  Some other type of plants cause skin reactions only in people who are previously sensitized to them.  This is called “allergic contact dermatitis.”  Physical contact of the skin with oil from these plants, called urushiol, is usually the culprit in these instances.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are the common plants that produce urushiol and trigger inflammation of the skin.  They grow as shrubs in open fields, wooded areas, on the roadside, as well as in backyards and parks throughout Falls Church, VA, Gainesville, VA, and Tysons Corner, VA.

The offending oils can be found on the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots of these plants. Exposure to even a small amount of urushiol can result in a severe rash in susceptible people. Touching the plants directly or indirect contact through pets, tools, and/or clothing can lead to the rash.  Airborne exposure can also occur especially when the plants are burned.

The symptoms can start anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the contact and usually presents itself as redness, swelling, itching, and/or burning of the exposed areas of the skin.  The rash may get more severe over the next few days and form blisters of various sizes.  They are usually distributed in a linear or streaky pattern depending on the type of contact.  The fluid that oozes from the blisters does not contain urushiol and therefore is not contagious.

The diagnosis is established after a detailed history and physical examination.  No blood tests or X-rays are needed.  The characteristic appearance of the lesions and their distribution pattern provide useful clues.

Thoroughly rinsing the exposed area with large amounts of warm water as soon as possible after known contact with plants may help remove the offending oily resins to some extent. After the rash appears, some helpful treatments consist of the following:

  1. Cool compresses to the affected skin.
  2. Local application of soothing agents such as calamine lotion and/or oatmeal baths.
  3. Antihistamines like Benadryl (i.e., diphenhydramine) by mouth to help relieve itching.
  4. If the affected area is limited and the rash and itching are intense, a topical medium to high potency steroid cream may be prescribed by an allergist in McLean, VA or the DC area.
  5. In more severe cases, an oral corticosteroid course may be needed to reduce the inflammation and prevent progression.
  6. In case of secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics are sometimes required.

One to three weeks is the usual duration of the condition.  Future episodes can be prevented by the following:

  1. Familiarizing with the appearance of the plants in order to recognize and avoid exposure.
  2. Wearing protective clothing including long sleeves, pants, boots, and gloves before outdoor activities.
  3. Applying commercially available OTC barrier creams to the skin in order to reduce or prevent contact with the toxic oils.
  4. Thoroughly washing clothes and bathing pets with protective gloves after coming into contact with the plants.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA have had many years of experience in treating poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac and will readily answer your questions and address your concerns at any time.  In addition to treating poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, we also diagnose and treat both adults and children with hay fever (i.e., allergic rhinitis), asthma, food allergies, medication allergies, sinus disease, immune disorders,  eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis), hives (i.e., urticaria), swelling episodes (i.e., angioedema), and other types of skin rashes.  The 3 offices of Black & Kletz all have on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  There is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  If you suffer from allergies, please call our office to make an appointment or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond to you within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergist McLean VA patients trust at Black & Kletz Allergy have been serving the allergy and asthma needs of the Washington, DC metro area for more than 50 years and we take pride in providing quality care in a friendly and professional environment.