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Women's Health

Summer Bummer: Skin Suffers

Infections, insects, sun, pool water -- they all wreak havoc on skin.
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Poison Ivy

If you're allergic, you know how annoying poison ivy can be. The itching and oozing can last up to two weeks -- it just seems longer.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all work the same. Your nemesis is urushiol, the poisonous oil that adheres to your skin and causes the symptoms, says Kathy Burke, MD, PHD, a dermatologist at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City. The itching and rashes don't appear immediately; it typically takes between 5 to 21 days before you feel those effects.

Important note: "If you wash within 20 minutes of touching it, you probably won't get it," Burke tells WebMD.

Once you've got blisters, make sure you don't spread the poison to other parts of your skin. "People think it's spreading, but the blister fluid itself won't spread it," Burke tells WebMD. "You spread it yourself by touching the poison on your skin, then touching another place on your body."

Some "poison ivy protectant" products are available over-the-counter and provide a barrier on your skin. Also, a product called Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash is said to completely remove the poisonous oil from the skin and provide lasting relief from symptoms within usually 30 seconds of application.

Best idea, if you're allergic: Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts plus gloves if you're around poison ivy. Don't touch clothes after taking them off, and wash them right away. Sensitive people can get it after being exposed to a minor amount, even from pets' fur, says Burke.

To ease itching: Benadryl helps. So do oatmeal baths, 1/2% hydrocortisone cream, and calamine lotion. Putting ice on the itch acts as a topical anesthetic. If your reaction is really bad, a doctor should prescribe steroid creams, Burke says. "It's worth going to the doctor the first time, then using those medications again the next time you're exposed."

Insect Stings and Bites

Usually, insects are just an annoyance -- but some people are deathly allergic to stings and bites. Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction and nothing to take lightly, Burke tells WebMD. "You can't breathe because your throat starts to close. You have to get right to the hospital, or you literally die."

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