Spring Rashes: Beware!

Hazel Bluestein, MD, CMO

Contact Dermatitis is a common skin rash or allergic reaction caused by an individual’s exposure to certain substances. This type of rash occurs more frequently in the spring and summer, as we begin to spend more time outdoors in the presence of numerous irritants and poisonous plant-life. An irritant’s direct contact with the skin is the most common cause of Contact Dermatitis, but it can also be transmitted by wind or smoke.

There are 5 ways to develop Contact Dermatitis: 

1. Allergic Sensitization (allergic reaction)

2. Mechanical Irritation (to scratch, impale, or lacerate the skin)

3. Chemical Irritation (toxic substance’s interaction with the skin)

Calcium oxalate is a chemical irritant present in certain plants, such as daffodils, poinsettia, agave and dumb cane.  There are also plants with barbs, spines, or thorns that cause reactions.  Treatment can vary depending on the substance and level of exposure.

4. Photosensitization (allergic symptoms activated by light)

Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE): a skin condition that affects 10-20% of people in the United States, commonly occurs during the spring and summer months in areas of the body exposed to the sun – face, neck, arms, and legs. It typically appears several hours after sun exposure, in the form of plump, red, extremely itchy bumps.

Chemical Photosensitivity is stimulated by a number of chemicals, such as drugs, medicated lotions, fragrances, and plant products. The skin will react each time it is exposed to sunlight after an individual ingests or comes into contact with a particular chemical.  Some examples include sulfa and doxyxycline antibiotics, celery-lime-parsley, and thiazide diuretics.

To obtain a diagnosis, an individual must be aware of any exposures in the previous day or two. Tower Health Urgent Care’s Providers can then offer the proper treatment regimen.

5. Contact Urticaria – Immunologic or Toxin Mediated – (reaction such as hives, swelling, or redness after skin’s contact with offending substance)

While exploring outdoors, be careful to avoid dead-looking leaves, vines, or roots of plants like poison ivy, oak, or sumac. The offending oil, urushiol, persists throughout the plant source for up to one year. Therefore, although the adage states: “Leaves of three, leave it be,” it is important to remain cautious of hairy (aerial) roots you find climbing up trees as well.

Although approximately 75% of people are allergic to urushiol, those who are not can still develop an allergy with repeated exposure.  Washing off the oil in cold water with soap of any kind – as soon as possible – will decrease the allergic reaction.  Hand-washing will be ineffective if done over an hour after exposure. Be sure to scrub under the nails too!  It often takes 2 days for the rash to erupt.

The following includes several examples of other substances that can trigger an allergic reaction:

Garden Plants:

  • Ragweed
  • Chrysanthemum Family: sunflower, daisy, dandelion, lettuce, chicory, feverfew, artichoke
  • Allium Family: onion, garlic, chive
  • Lily family: lily, tulip, hyacinth, asparagus
  • Pine family with spruce
  • Celery

Cooking, processing, deep-freezing, or crushing these fruits and vegetables generally reduces their allergenicity.

Cosmetics and Fragrances:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Lavender
  • Jasmine
  • Rosewood
  • Lemon oils
  • Orange oils (including oil of bergamot)
  • Citronella
  • Cassia oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil
  • Clove oil

If you are experiencing symptoms of Contact Dermatitis this season, visit Tower Health Urgent Care for convenient access to our team of expert physicians. Please visit our Locations Page to find a facility near you.

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