Toxicodendron Radicans - Effects On The Body

Effects On The Body

Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis is the allergic reaction caused by poison ivy. In extreme cases, a reaction can progress to anaphylaxis. Around 15% to 30% of people have no allergic reaction. Most people will become sensitized with repeated or more concentrated exposure to urushiol.

Over 350,000 people are affected by poison ivy annually in the US.

The pentadecylcatechols of the oleoresin within the sap of poison-ivy and related plants causes the allergic reaction; the plants produce a mixture of pentadecylcatechols, which collectively is called urushiol. After injury, the sap leaks to the surface of the plant where the urushiol becomes a blackish lacquer after contact with oxygen.

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that develops into reddish coloured inflammation or non-coloured bumps, and then blistering. These lesions may be treated with Calamine lotion, Burow's solution compresses or baths to relieve discomfort, though recent studies have shown some traditional medicines to be ineffective. Over-the-counter products to ease itching—or simply oatmeal baths and baking soda—are now recommended by dermatologists for the treatment of poison ivy. A plant based remedy cited to counter urushiol induced contact dermatitis is jewelweed. "The results of a clinical study, in which a 1:4 jewelweed preparation was compared for its effectiveness with other standard poison ivy dermatitis treatments was published in 1958 (Annals of Allergy 1958;16:526-527). Of 115 patients treated with jewelweed, 108 responded ‘most dramatically to the topical application of this medication and were entirely relieved of their symptoms within 2 or 3 days after the institution of treatment.' It was concluded that jewelweed is an excellent substitute for ACTH and the corticosteroids in the treatment of poison ivy dermatitis.

The oozing fluids released by scratching blisters do not spread the poison. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not urushiol itself. The appearance of a spreading rash indicates that some areas received more of the poison and reacted sooner than other areas or that contamination is still occurring from contact with objects to which the original poison was spread. The blisters and oozing result from blood vessels that develop gaps and leak fluid through the skin; if the skin is cooled, the vessels constrict and leak less. If poison ivy is burned and the smoke then inhaled, this rash will appear on the lining of the lungs, causing extreme pain and possibly fatal respiratory difficulty. If poison ivy is eaten, the mucus lining of the mouth and digestive tract can be damaged. A poison ivy rash usually develops within a week of exposure and can last anywhere from one to four weeks, depending on severity and treatment. In rare cases, poison ivy reactions may require hospitalization.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin. Clothing, tools, and other objects that have been exposed to the oil should be washed to prevent further transmission.

People who are sensitive to poison ivy can also experience a similar rash from mangoes. Mangoes are in the same family (Anacardiaceae) as poison ivy; the sap of the mango tree and skin of mangoes has a chemical compound similar to urushiol. A related allergenic compound is present in the raw shells of cashews. Similar reactions have been reported occasionally from contact with the related Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) and Japanese lacquer tree. These other plants are also in the Anacardiaceae family.

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