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Health A-Z

Allergy: Could I have come into contact with poison ivy?

I have developed a nasty, blistery rash on my hands after working in the garden. An American neighbour says it looks like poison ivy. Could I have come into contact with poison ivy in the UK? If not, what else might have caused it?

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

Poison ivy causes a painful and itchy, blistery rash on the skin of those who come into contact with it. The rash lasts for up to two weeks, and there is no effective treatment for it. The rash is a form of chemical dermatitis, caused by oils in the leaves. Poison ivy leaves grow in groups of three, are shiny and vary in colour from green to red. The plant also has tiny berries in the spring. It grows wild in eastern US, but it is not present in the UK, so it is extremely unlikely to be the cause of your rash. Another possible cause of your rash is plants in the euphorbia family. Euphorbias have a milky, latex sap, which appears as soon as a stalk is cut and can cause a similar rash to poison ivy. The chemical culprit in euphorbia is a mixture of toxic chemicals known as diterpene esters. Other plants that can cause dermatitis include hellebores, chrysanthemums, primroses and primulas.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to health@independent.co.uk. He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.