Urushiol is an oil found in plants of the genus Toxicodendron, which includes poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. It is an allergen, meaning it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. When urushiol comes into contact with the skin, it can cause an itchy, red rash, blisters, and swelling.
Urushiol is a mixture of several compounds, including catechols, phenols, and alcohols. These compounds are found in the leaves, stems, and roots of the Toxicodendron plants. When the plant is disturbed, the urushiol is released into the air and can come into contact with the skin. An immune response causes an allergic reaction to urushiol.
When the urushiol comes into contact with the skin, the body recognizes it as a foreign substance and produces antibodies to fight it. Unfortunately, this causes the release of histamine, which causes the rash, itching, and other symptoms.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to urushiol is to avoid contact with the plants. If contact is unavoidable, wearing protective clothing and washing the skin immediately after contact can help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. If an allergic reaction does occur, it is important to seek medical attention.
Over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce itching and swelling, and topical corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation. In severe cases, oral corticosteroids may be prescribed.