Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that is caused by direct contact with irritating or allergy-causing substances. The reaction varies in the same person over time. A history of any type of allergy increases the risk for the condition.

There are several types of contact dermatitis that affect different people in different ways. In infants and children, one of the most common contact dermatitis is the diaper dermatitis. This is a general term used to describe any inflammatory skin eruption that develops in the diaper-covered region. Diaper dermatitis is most often considered an irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis is the second most common type of contact dermatitis, which is caused by exposure to a substance or material to which you or your child are sensitive or allergic to. The allergic reaction is usually delayed with the rash appearing 24 to 48 hours after exposure, and can last up to eight weeks. The skin inflammation varies from mild irritation and redness to open sores, depending on the type of the irritant, the body part affected and the skin’s sensitivity.

The substances causing allergy in you or your child include poison ivy and poison oak plants that contain an irritating and oily juice called urishiol. Urishiol is easily absorbed into the skin. It can be inhaled if the poison plants are inhaled. The smoke may expose not only the skin to the chemical, but also the nasal passages, throat and lungs. The skin of mangoes also contains urishiol and can produce symptoms similar to poison ivy dermatitis. As a parent it’s important to be careful of the substances that your child comes across.

Signs and symptoms of poison ivy dermatitis

  • Redness and itching of the skin.
  • A rash erupts on the skin; often in a pattern of streaks or patches from where the plant has come into contact with the skin.
  • The rash develops into red bumps called papules, or large, oozing blisters.

Often, the rash looks like a straight line because of the way the plant brushes against the skin. But if the child comes into contact with a piece of clothing or pet fur that has urishiol on it, the rash may be more spread out.

The fluid that leaks from blisters does not cause the symptoms. Poison ivy dermatitis is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another. However, urishiol can be carried under fingernails and on clothes and if another person comes into contact with it, she can develop poison ivy dermatitis.

People of all ethnicity, gender, age and skin types are at the risk of developing poison ivy dermatitis. The severity of the reaction tends to decrease with age, especially in people who have had mild reactions in the past.

Diagnosis and treatment

Poison Ivy diagnosis is based on the child’s skin type. The doctor will only require the presented symptoms and appearance of the rash to determine if what your child has is poison ivy.

Poison ivy treatments are usually limited to self-care methods. The rash typically goes away on its own within two to four weeks. In case of complication where secondary infection has developed – that includes pus oozing in the blisters- further treatment is required. The treatment generally involves the use of antibiotics, which only your doctor should prescribe.

How can you prevent it?

Learn to identify poison ivy and poison oak and ensure you or your child do not get into contact with them. Remove these plants from around your home. Cover your skin and your child’s if walking in an area where such plants grow. Ensure you and your children wash your hands with soap within five to ten minutes of exposure to the allergen.

 Published in June 2012