Severe allergic reaction to poison oak

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Exposure to poison oak can trigger the development of red-colored, bumpy rashes that causes intense itchiness that can be considered as a nuisance for many individuals. Cases of severe reactions can intensify the symptoms and increase the length of the rash. Even though most cases of poison oak reactions typically improve without requiring treatment, some might require a prescription medication if he/she experiences a severe allergic reaction.

Close look on poison oak

The leaves of the poison oak plant strikingly resemble an oak tree. It is important to note that the rash caused by poison oak develops after being exposed to urushiol which is the sap produced by the plant.

The rash develops hours to days after the exposure and typically appears first on areas of the body that have thin skin including the face and wrists. Contact with the leaves of the poison oak plant can release urushiol and trigger an allergic reaction.

Poison oak
Even before the rash manifests, the skin might appear reddish or starts to itch. Clumps of red-colored bumps soon develop in parts of the body that came in contact with urushiol.

Anyone can also develop a reaction if pets come in contact with poison oak. A reaction occurs if the individual touches the pet or touch objects that came in contact with urushiol such as shoes, clothing or gardening tools.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Even before the rash manifests, the skin might appear reddish or starts to itch. Clumps of red-colored bumps soon develop in parts of the body that came in contact with urushiol. Take note that these bumps start to blister and fill with fluid. The fluid does not contain urushiol and touching a broken blister will not trigger the spread of the rash to other parts of the body or to other people.

Allergic reactions to poison oak tend to vary from one individual to another. Some individuals are highly sensitive and can end up with a rapid reaction after exposure to even trace amounts of urushiol. Others will only experience a reaction after exposure to substantial amounts of urushiol.

Management of an allergic reaction to poison oak

Even though mild cases can be managed at home using over-the-counter antihistamines and anti-itch creams, cool compresses and oatmeal baths, severe cases require treatment with prescription medications. In most cases, an oral corticosteroid is highly effective in minimizing the swelling and itchiness. The doctor might even prescribe antibiotics if the blisters are infected.

Important considerations to bear in mind

When it comes to mild cases of poison oak, they typically last up to 12 days but severe cases can last for a month or longer. The indications of a severe allergic reaction include severe itchiness that can disrupt sleep, blisters that do not crust over after a few weeks or the presence of rash on the mucous membranes such as the lips, genitals, eyes or lips.

If the individual scratches the rash, it can lead to a fever or an infection. If there is drainage of pus from the rash, it indicates an infection. In case the rash covers more than 25% of the body, it can cause a systemic reaction that requires hospitalization. It is recommended to bring the individual to the emergency room if the individual has a severe rash accompanied by fever, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea, swollen lymph nodes or an extremely sore oozing rash.


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