About 85% of us have allergic reactions to poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, which are all members of the Toxicodendron genus. Poison ivy is most common in the eastern United States, poison sumac in uninhabited areas and poison oak in the west.
Prompt use of soap and water is the best prevention of an allergic reaction to urushiol. If it is washed from the skin within five minutes of contact it is unlikely that any rash will appear, but washing after that period of time is beneficial to prevent spreading of the chemical.
For most people, learning to recognize the plants, wearing clothing that doesn't expose skin and washing thoroughly after possible contact is precaution enough.
Calamine lotion is still the recommended treatment as a drying agent and to help relieve itch. Cool showers and lukewarm baths to which oatmeal or baking soda is added also provide relief. The rash and itching persist for about ten days. A physician should be consulted if the rash covers more than 20 percent of the body, or if the face or genital area is involved. The doctor may prescribe antihistamines and corticosteroid creams.
A new topical treatment-bentoquatam, which is available without a prescription-can prevent the rash by forming a barrier on the skin. Applied about 15 minutes before exposure, it is helpful to those who cannot avoid contact (hikers, park rangers, land clearers and others).
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