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Poison Oak - can you desensitize? Poison Ivy Poison Sumac
Old 07-24-2009, 06:32 PM   #1
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Poison Oak - can you desensitize? Poison Ivy Poison Sumac

I mentioned in another thread that I'm one of the lucky who react to Poison Oak (actually the oil called urushiol on the surface of the leaves) by having my skin basically fall off. I didn't properly appreciate my skin until it fell off. It did eventually heal but I had to wrap my legs in saran wrap to be able to dress and report for work in the meantime.

As far as I know there are two states in the Union, Alaska and Hawaii, that do not have these plants in any abundance anywhere.

So I'm living in one of those states, and considering relocating to the other. But it would be nice to have other options within the U.S. and elsewhere.

Does anyone know of medical treatment for reaction to urushiol? I was allergic to cat and dog dander, for example, but after getting injections for a year or so as a child I am now desensitized. The last time I asked a medical professional he said there was no such treatment for poison oak.

There is reportedly a homeopathic treatment but I like my scientific double blind random study before I start popping pills.

Urushiol is a physical substance that sticks until washed off with hot water, so I can't just stay away from the plant and be spared. Any dog or cat, for example, that gets in it and then comes to me to be petted.... insert Jaws movie sound track here.

I appreciate any new information. Thanks.
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Old 07-24-2009, 07:27 PM   #2
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No poison ivy in Alaska! Good news.

In my local area in NW PA, I am spared poison ivy. Not too many miles south before the dreaded stuff appears in abundance. I get it bad but not as bad as you.

There used to be shots that utility workers and others would get seasonally to desensitize to poison ivy but they stopped doing that years ago. Why I do not know.

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Old 07-24-2009, 07:33 PM   #3
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A friend of mine in the landscape business takes oral ivy pills and swears by them. Here is a link to a report on the subject: http://www.oralivy.com/GrossA.pdf
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Old 07-24-2009, 07:46 PM   #4
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Found another interesting link,but this one says that nothing works...so
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Old 07-24-2009, 07:47 PM   #5
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Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac Information :: New developments on Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac Treatments from DermaTechRx Research Center SORRY BOUT THAT
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Old 07-24-2009, 08:14 PM   #6
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It looks like you have a few more states to pick from for relocation .
Poison oak is primarily found west of the Rockies. It has been found in some extreme southern states like Florida and Georgia. Some individuals in the Midwest claim they have seen it in Illinois and Missouri; however, this has not been documented.
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Old 07-24-2009, 09:42 PM   #7
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It looks like you have a few more states to pick from for relocation .
Poison oak is primarily found west of the Rockies. It has been found in some extreme southern states like Florida and Georgia. Some individuals in the Midwest claim they have seen it in Illinois and Missouri; however, this has not been documented.
I hope/wish you were right. Here's my reference:
PLANTS Profile for Toxicodendron (poison oak) | USDA PLANTS

If you do a search for Toxicodendron (the genus) you'll see there are several species. All, to my knowledge, wear urushiol.
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Old 07-25-2009, 01:08 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Free To Canoe View Post
There used to be shots that utility workers and others would get seasonally to desensitize to poison ivy but they stopped doing that years ago. Why I do not know.
'Cause they hurt like a sonofagun.

I was hyperallergic to poison ivy as a kid, not a good thing given our neighborhood woods. I had the desensitization shots in the 1970s when it was a refrigerated oil that had to be manually injected with a needle roughly the diameter of a of a crochet hook. Took a minute or two to squeeze it out of the syringe and into the arm. Or so it felt seemed. But it worked.

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Originally Posted by toofrugalformycat View Post
As far as I know there are two states in the Union, Alaska and Hawaii, that do not have these plants in any abundance anywhere.
Another benefit of living in Paradise. Dang. When our kid moves to the Mainland I'm going to have to teach her about both ticks and poison ivy.

Dumb question-- you say "medical professional", but have you spoken with an allergy specialist? The immune system gets less reactive as we get older, and there may be new desensitizing regimes. They may also be able to help with treating the symptoms.
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Old 07-25-2009, 08:29 PM   #9
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'Cause they hurt like a sonofagun.

I was hyperallergic to poison ivy as a kid, not a good thing given our neighborhood woods. I had the desensitization shots in the 1970s when it was a refrigerated oil that had to be manually injected with a needle roughly the diameter of a of a crochet hook. Took a minute or two to squeeze it out of the syringe and into the arm. Or so it felt seemed. But it worked.

Another benefit of living in Paradise. Dang. When our kid moves to the Mainland I'm going to have to teach her about both ticks and poison ivy.

Dumb question-- you say "medical professional", but have you spoken with an allergy specialist? The immune system gets less reactive as we get older, and there may be new desensitizing regimes. They may also be able to help with treating the symptoms.
Nords, you're the first I've heard about that had such an injection. And it worked for you! May I ask in what approximate location (not your body, which state in the U.S.) and which decade you got the injection?

I avoid doctors and the medical profession whenever possible, other than checkups. Nothing personal, it's just when you live this long you recognize that knowledge advances and some advice and procedures done to me over the years are now recognized as harmful. So I like to have my ducks lined up before I see a professional. Be that as it may, I felt a big "duh" coming on when you asked if I'd seen an allergy specialist. I should go the next time I'm in the lower 48, since docs up here have no local experience with poison oak. I'll hit the books first though, because I believed there was no such injection.

Of course my health insurance does not cover anything preventative, so it'd all have to be on my dime. Just another reason to not go here in Alaska where health care is really expensive.

I was just hoping someone in this forum happened to have personal experience with the issue with a successful outcome. And it sounds like you have. Do you know if you've been exposed since, and not broken out?
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Old 07-25-2009, 08:35 PM   #10
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Urushiol is in poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac. Different plants are in different parts of the country.
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Old 07-25-2009, 10:07 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Free To Canoe View Post
No poison ivy in Alaska! Good news.

In my local area in NW PA, I am spared poison ivy. Not too many miles south before the dreaded stuff appears in abundance. I get it bad but not as bad as you.
There's tons of poison ivy north of PA. It extends (at least) all the way up the Appalachian Trail to Maine.

Quote:
There used to be shots that utility workers and others would get seasonally to desensitize to poison ivy but they stopped doing that years ago. Why I do not know.
Quote:
'Cause they hurt like a sonofagun.

I was hyperallergic to poison ivy as a kid, not a good thing given our neighborhood woods. I had the desensitization shots in the 1970s when it was a refrigerated oil that had to be manually injected with a needle roughly the diameter of a of a crochet hook. Took a minute or two to squeeze it out of the syringe and into the arm. Or so it felt seemed. But it worked.
First I ever heard of desensitizing shots. I'd have taken them even if they injected it through a garden hose. I've been hospitalized with poison ivy twice. Once they had to intubate me to keep me breathing. Got it from smoke that time.

I actually think I might be getting a little less sensitive with age. I still get it bad (got a mild case as we speak), but not like I did as a kid. I love to hike and camp, and am pretty good at identifying it, but I still get it. I think this most recent case came from petting a dog, since it's on my hands and arms. It's funny, since I'm not allergic to much anything else. I used to keep bees and could get stung all day, no big deal. But I walk past this damn little plant, and kablooey!
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Old 07-25-2009, 10:13 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by toofrugalformycat View Post
Nords, you're the first I've heard about that had such an injection. And it worked for you! May I ask in what approximate location (not your body, which state in the U.S.) and which decade you got the injection?
Of course my health insurance does not cover anything preventative, so it'd all have to be on my dime. Just another reason to not go here in Alaska where health care is really expensive.
I was just hoping someone in this forum happened to have personal experience with the issue with a successful outcome. And it sounds like you have. Do you know if you've been exposed since, and not broken out?
It was around 1974-5 in Pittsburgh PA. Mostly left arm though I guess I probably had them in both arms. I think it was biweekly or monthly for six months, although I must've wiped the trauma from my memory. Never had any more problems in our neighborhood or on camping trips, although I joined the Navy in 1978 and never really exposed myself to poison ivy ever again.

10 years later I touched something in a state park on the Monterey Peninsula (CA) and got poison oak or poison ivy blisters-- I don't remember which. Instead of swelling up like a balloon I only swelled up like a small sausage, and only on one arm, and only for a few days. "Much better".

You want the allergist's scratch tests on your back or calves, which are worth the cost. If your reaction is strong enough then insurance may cover the cost of the desensitization. And these days they must have a better way to administer the treatment than pushing cold oil into your arm with a plunger...
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Old 07-26-2009, 11:33 AM   #13
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I reviewed toxicodendron dermatitis as a resident about 10 years ago after a nasty bout of it myself. Desensitization was no longer thought to be effective. I found a recent review Toxicodendron Dermatitis: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac which confirms that.

Quote:
Desensitization programs for sensitized individuals have not been successful.36,47 Systematic oral ingestion of leaves or injection of prepared extracts usually results in pruritis ani, generalized pruritis, and urticaria. Hyposensitization effects seem to wane in 6 to 12 months. Lasting natural hyposensitization has been reported, however, among Japanese woodworkers who use lacquer derived from Toxicodendron verniciflua, the Japanese lacquer tree. In a 1991 survey, 81% of craftsmen developed dermatitis from the lacquer but 83% of these reactions resolved with continued exposure.48,49 According to traditional Asian medicine, ingestion of this lacquer is a remedy for gastrointestinal disorders. In Korean folk medicine, the leaves, roots, and bark of this tree are boiled and the extract is ingested, apparently without systemic symptoms.50
Prevention remains avoidance and barriers.

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Old 07-26-2009, 02:00 PM   #14
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I reviewed toxicodendron dermatitis as a resident about 10 years ago after a nasty bout of it myself. Desensitization was no longer thought to be effective. I found a recent review Toxicodendron Dermatitis: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac which confirms that.

Prevention remains avoidance and barriers.

DD
Thanks for the article. Lot's of good stuff for a vetern, lifelong poison ivy sufferer, some of it new for me. For instance, after 30 minutes if no washing has occurred, your toast (at least for the initial contact). Info on barrier creams and residual oils (wash those fingernails!).

Quote:
Originally Posted by harley
There's tons of poison ivy north of PA. It extends (at least) all the way up the Appalachian Trail to Maine.
Good catch Harley. I am fairly sure and would be willing to bet that poison ivy / oak can be found in every one of the lower 48 states.

It is relatively rare in my immediate area. So much so that I am comfortable hiking in the woods locally with just shorts (2 years now). I am shocked at this discovery. Just 70 miles to the south in the Pittsburgh area, it is so common it can be found in just about every rural and urban woodlot if you look hard enough.

Always, always, always assume it is present!

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Old 07-26-2009, 03:50 PM   #15
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I am terribly allergic to poison ivy. I usually get a spot or two every year just by existing even though I have a lawn maintenance contract for my place. This year, nothing. Knock on wood. I keep my dog away from grassy, overgrown areas. In my previous house, I suspect the dog and people burning clippings caused me to have a flare up.
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Old 07-26-2009, 06:05 PM   #16
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We have no poison oak or ivy in our immediate vicinity, and I haven't seen a single plant in the 10 years I've lived here (far northern California coast). So there are probably local climate zones where it does not grow.

When I lived in Oakland I battled PO constantly. Evil stuff.
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Old 07-26-2009, 06:28 PM   #17
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This is the worst year I've seen for poison ivy in Virginia in the 8 years I've been here, plus 16 in NC.
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Old 07-26-2009, 09:18 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by DblDoc View Post
I reviewed toxicodendron dermatitis as a resident about 10 years ago after a nasty bout of it myself. Desensitization was no longer thought to be effective. I found a recent review Toxicodendron Dermatitis: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac which confirms that.

Prevention remains avoidance and barriers.

DD
Thanks, everyone, for all the information. Thanks especially to DblDoc. This article is just the thing I was looking for.
I'm glad I always did my own laundry in India - I never would have guessed laundry marks would be made with a similar toxin (mentioned in the article). Sheesh, you never know.
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