Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, Contact Dermatitis: Poison Sumac and Mango Skin Rash
Contact Dermatitis: Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac and Mango Skin Rash
Spring is a dangerous time of the year for eager herbalists. So many plants are emerging from their winter sleep that it is tempting to step off the hiking trail to examine them more closely. That is when the guardians assigned to protecting these tender sprouts spring into action. The Toxicodendron species which includes poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac, has an oily substance called urushiol which triggers an allergic reaction in many people.
The genus Toxicodendron belongs to the Anacardiaceae family which is commonly called the cashew family. The outer parts of plants in this family also contains urushiol in varying amounts. Raw cashews and mango skin contains some urushiol that triggers skin rashes in people who are particularly sensitive to the oil. Harvesters of these tropical trees must take care when working with the members of the Anacardiaceae family.
Prevention for Contact Dermatitis
Toxicodendron species commonly grow in wild areas throughout North America. When hiking in their territory, stay on the trail. Public parks often post warnings about these plants so keep sharp look out as you enjoy the scenery. Keep your dog on a short leash while hiking. Dog are notorious for rubbing against poison oak or poison ivy without noticing. The oil can spread from their fur to your skin. Don't pet unleashed dogs for this reason. My daughter and I got poison oak from a friendly dog while hiking up a butte one winter. The poison oak wasn't leafing out but the twigs still produce urushiol.
If you suspect that you came in contact with a toxicodendron species, shower or wash the area that touched these plants with hot water. Wash your clothes with hot water to release the oil and prevent reinfection.
If you suffer strong reactions to poison oak and it's relatives, be careful when coming in contact with other members of the Anacardieae family. Where rubber gloves when peeling mangoes. Only the mango's skin has urushiol, the inner mango flesh is free of the oil. Be sure to avoid raw cashews. Some people report allergic reactions to the trace amounts of irritating oil which sometimes transfers from the tree to the nut. Contact dermatitis to the urushiol is different than a cashew allergy which has much more severe symptoms.
Some people are dedicated to eliminating poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac from their property. Property owners with a small backyard that they share with children or animals are wise to do this but those with large properties might think twice before grabbing a shovel. These plants are native plants that serve to shield other more delicate area from being stomped on. A public park that I used to work at posted signs about the poison oak and found that visitors were much more compliant about staying on the trails which decreased their maintenance time.
Never burn poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac. The oils are then released into the air and causes and internal rash in the lungs and throat. Cover your mouth and nose with a kerchief if you are in a wildfire area where these plants grow. Take homeopathic remedies with Rhus Toxicodendron 6X to prevent a reaction.
Herbal Allies for Treatment of Contact Dermatitis
Symptoms of contact dermatitis include itchy, red skin that erupts with oozing bumps in patches or streaks. Later, the rash can spread to other areas of the body as circulates through the system. The irritation gets worse at night and distrupts sleep. The key is to stop the dermatitis from spreading and ease the itching so the body can heal. Another danger of this reaction is a bacterial infection that can complicate the healing process greatly.
Both comfrey and calendula share a well deserved reputation for healing the skin. Comfrey is usually assigned to external care but calendula can be taken both internally and externally.
Oatmeal makes an excellent poultice for drawing out the oil and soothing the skin. Use oatmeal soap or oatmeal based lotion to releive the itch.
Take valerian root tincture in the early evening and before bed to relax the nerves which makes the itching worse.
Oregon Grape root tincture is a powerful antibiotic that will prevent a subsequent bacterial infection.
Bloodroot tincture can be taken internally or externally to reduce swelling. (Nursing or pregnant women should avoid using bloodroot internally.)
After the contact dermatitis has stopped itching, swelling and spreading, promote healing with First Aid Salve. Calendula and comfrey are excellent for preventing scar tissue from forming around the wound.
List of Herbal Allies for Treatment of Contact Dermatitis
Nutrition for Treatment of Contact Dermatitis
Vitamins A (25,000 IU), E (topical ointment or cream)and C (5,000 mg) are important for skin health. These antioxidants also serve to bolster the immune system so that your natural defenses can have a chance to win the battle with the allergic attack. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine.
Drink plenty of water every day. Proper hydration is vital to the healing process. Include fruit juices that are naturally astringent in your diet to help flush toxins from your system. Examples would be cranberry juice or grapefruit juice.
Non-herbal Allies for Contact Dermatitis
Calamine lotion is an old stand by for treating contact dermatitis. It dries the wound to promote fast healing.
Wash the effected area with rubbing alcohol. It also serves to draw the oil from the skin but burns when applied to an open wound. Spritz or sprinkle the area with rubbing alcohol and allow the area to air dry, do not dab with a cloth.