Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Working Outdoors

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Working Outdoors

Article excerpt

Can Be irritating

Expert advice can help workers prevent annoying poisonous plant rashes.

The colorful red and berries and leaflets may appear harmless on the outside, but it's what's son ivy, oak and sumac that causes problems. In many area of the country, these three plants are a leading cause of occupational dermatitis for outdoor workers, according to the National Safety Council. We asked experts to answer common questions about poisonous plants and explain the best ways to avoid the inevitable irritation associated with exposure.

How do you get it? Susan Carol Hauser, plant expert and author of a book about poisonous plants called Nature's Revenge, said most people think the rash is contracted by touching the plant's leaves. However, poisonous plant leaves won't cause harm -- urushiol will. "Urushiol is an oil which is found in the sap of the plants. It is expelled from a rip or tear in the leaf of the plant. This yellowish, odorless substance is what gets on the skin and causes the reaction," said Hauser.

Urushiol can penetrate the skin without direct contact with the oil. It remains active when it rubs off on clothing and other objects, such as tools. "Any object can carry it. For instance, if you get urushiol on your work gloves and then wipe the sweat off your forehead with those same gloves, you can get it that way," said Dr. William Epstein, professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Francisco.

When the off penetrates, the skin, it starts to bond within 10 to 15 minutes of contact. In most cases, the rash doesn't appear for another 24 hours. It is red, bumpy, and usually found on the arms, shins and face. There may be Swelling near the rash which progresses to itchy blisters that ooze, harden and crack. In more severe cases, the rash appears within four hours of exposure, the eyes swell shut and blisters form. If this happens, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

A common misunderstanding associated with poisonous plant rashes is that scratching the blisters causes the rash to spread. "Don't worry if it looks like it' is spreading. The fluid present in the blisters is body serum, not the oil. You cannot spread it further on your own body or give the rash to others," said Hauser.

How do you stop the itching? To alleviate itching, Epstein suggested doing whatever feels best to the individual. "Use anything soothing for you, such as baking soda in water, vinegar and water, or an Aveeno oatmeal bath," said Epstein.

According to Epstein, cortisone creams are usually popular alleviants, but they are not very effective. …

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