Poison oak commonly named as western poison oak is one of the flowering plants in the sumac family such as poison ivy and poison sumac.Toxicodendron diversilobum, contains shrubs, vines and woody trees mostly found in America. All members of these genus plants can cause a mild to a severe allergic reaction from the leaves or stems of the plant. Poison oak is deciduous, the plant is leafless during winter and without leaves, it’s pretty difficult to identify it. The twigs can still sting you. The leaves of poison oak may sometimes be identified by black marks where its milky sap may have oozed and dried. The sap produces urushiol ( an oily compound which commonly found in plants of Toxicodendron family) which causes allergic contact dermatitis once the oil gets to the skin.
What does poison oak look like?
Photos courtesy of University of California
The most telling characteristics of a poison oak are:
- Leaf shape resembles an oak leaf.
- Its leaflets are duller green and usually distinctly toothed than poison ivy. (In spring, leaves can be red or greener.)
- Produces white small flowers. During summer, leaves can be green and produce berries.
- Leaflets have hairy on both sides
- Plant looks like a leafy shrub
- It grows as a low shrub in the Eastern and Southern United States
- On the Pacific Coast, poison oak plant grows as tall clumps or long vines
Photos courtesy of University of California
What causes poison oak rash?
A poison oak rash is an allergic reaction caused by an oily resin called urushiol. It is found in the leaves and stems of the western oak or poison oak plant. Poison oak releases the oil when the leaf or other parts of the plant are damaged, bruised, or burned.
The oil adheres to skin and clothing and can spread by touch. When exposed to 50 micrograms of urushiol, an amount that is less than one grain of table salt, 80-90% of adults will develop a mild to severe rash. It is very itchy and sometimes painful.
Poison Oak Symptoms
Most of the time, the symptoms of allergic reaction to poison oak appears within 1 to 6 days or 24 to 48 hours after the exposure. Common evidence of an allergic reaction is a skin rash. At first, you may notice some itching, sting and some skin irritation. Next, rashes will break out that gets itchier as it progresses. Eventually, rashes will be worse in some areas where you had direct contact with the plant. And rashes will start to form into oozing blisters.
Poison oak rash commonly appeared around your wrists and ankles where our skin is thinner. In some cases, allergies can last a month or more.
Poison Oak Remedies/Treatment
- Wash the skin thoroughly with soap and warm water because the oil penetrates the skin very quickly. Try to wash off within 30minutes
- Use a rubbing alcohol or strong soap to cleanse the affected area within the first 5 to 10 minutes after exposure.
- Wash clothes that have been exposed to the poison.
- Take lukewarm baths or cool showers to ease itching.
- The rashes can be itchy, prevent scratching or touching them to prevent infection.
- Apply a cool compress to the itchy patches.
- To relieve pain and itching try having home remedies such as oatmeal baths, baking soda pastes, aloe vera extract and over-the-counter remedies like calamine lotion.
- Use Oral Ivy for treating poison oak symptoms. Put 10 drops of oral ivy in 2 ounces of water every 2 hours as needed. As symptoms improve, reduce it to once every 4 hours, then twice daily until symptoms disappear. Place drops under tongue in 2 ounces of water at least 15 minutes before or half hour after eating, brushing teeth or drinking anything except water.
Poison Oak Prevention Tips
- Keep an eye out of the plant and learn to recognize the poison oak in the wild to avoid walking through it.
- Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, long pants tucked into the boots, and socks when walking in areas where poison oak may grow. If you think you may be working around poison oak always wear impermeable gloves.
- Wash garden tools and gloves regularly.
- Although most pets are immune to poison oak, ivy and sumac, the oil resin can still stick to their fur and it will cause an allergic reaction to anyone petting them. Make sure to wash your pet if you think they may have brushed up against poison oak or other poisonous plants like poison ivy and sumac. Use pet shampoo and water while wearing rubber gloves.
- Remove plants growing near your home. But never burn them! Keep in mind that burning poison oak is dangerous because the resins can be spread via the smoke. And inhaling it can cause a severe allergic reaction and respiratory problems.
- Be prepared to wash immediately if you suspected any contact with these plants.
- Start taking oral ivy before the growing season. Take 3 to 5 drops of Oral Ivy in a small glass of water daily by mouth 7 to 14 days before exposure and continue throughout the poison ivy season.
- Apply pre-contact poison barrier products to reduce the risk of rash. Most pets are not sensitive to poison ivy, but the oil can stick to their fur and cause a reaction in someone who pets them.
When to seek medical help?
If you come in contact with the plant, the sooner you take care of it, the better. If you notice something’s off or more serious from the symptoms that commonly have then there is a high potential that you are in severe condition. These signs of severe reactions include difficulty in breathing, rash covers around 25% to 50% of your body, signs of infection such as fluid leaking from blisters. Also, we can consider these symptoms as well such as fever, headaches, facial swelling since you’re exposed to the plant. These symptoms can be life threatening and require immediate medical help.