Monday, July 20, 2009

Pregnancy and Poison Oak

Poison oak grows shrubby and close to the ground and it's hard to imagine that a plant this innocuous looking could cause so much damage but if you have a bad immune reaction to it and you also happen to be pregnant (or your wife, more likely, is pregnant), prepare to suffer for a long time.

According to a midwives, doctors, and naturopaths, poison oak is so much worse when pregnant than in real life. In real life it's horrible (though some people only get mild cases or have no reaction at all). In pregnancy you can expect the site of the infection to swell up like someone inflated your body part, to ooze yellow pus, to itch uncontrollably, and to take WEEKS AND WEEKS AND WEEKS (did we say weeks) TO GO AWAY.

If your pregnant wife gets poison oak, try to be very very nice to her.

The best thing is prevention -- of course. But, duh, you knew that already and you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't get it.

After that, what? Really bad cases are treated with an injection of steroids or orally taken steroids (prednazone is the steroid of choice) but you can't take those if you are pregnant unless your reaction is so severe you are in a death grip because these steroids are known to be toxic to fetuses.

They are also toxic to adults.

Our friend was out hiking. He pet a dog on the trail (animals don't react to the urushiol that makes humans so sick) and then went to relieve himself in the woods. He used his hand to guide the stream, and ended up with poison oak on his johnson. Ouch. The doc gave him a shot in the butt. It helped the poison oak infection but also gave him 'roid rage, turning him from a mild mannered never-raises-his-voice peace-loving dude into a screaming angry freak who got a red card in a soccer match.

Not the kind of medicine you want your fetus absorbing.

But don't believe anything you read on the Internet about poison oak because ... IT DOESN'T WORK. None of it works. Not to be negative or anything but if your wife gets poison oak, hunker down for a lot of pain, a lot of really awful itching, and almost no relief of any kind.

Cold compresses do help, especially ice.

We tried two homeopathic remedies -- Apis and the classic poison oak one, Rhus Tox. They did nothing.

Benadryl taken orally or applied topically helped a little. But only long enough to sleep comfortably until the drug wore off and then the infection--actually it's an overactive immune response the urushiol itself isn't the problem--took over again and sleep was gone. Think hours and hours of itchy agony.

Technu only helps if you apply it when you are exposed. You can try it. The fumes will make a pregnant woman woozy and nauseous but do nothing to help the poison oak.

Also, expect it to spread, because it will. All over your poor spouse's body. From the site of the infection it will migrate systemically to other places. If you get it on your leg, expect it to show up on your index finger.

It's so awful.

And you are in for at least three weeks of agony.

After the initial wound was superating for days, we gave in and used a topical steroid cream that offered some relief and seemed to help the reaction slow down. The small print on the label information said it is KNOWN to be secreted by the liver and to be TOXIC TO RAT FETUSES but the doctor said it was worth it or we would end up in the hospital. Maybe the baby we're expecting will be born with two heads. Let's hope not.

Try other stuff. Search the internet. Get your bed filthy with baking soda goop and calamine. But the best thing is really ice cold water, plenty of rest, a non-inflammatory diet, tons of vitamin C, and a hugely generous serving of patience.

You're in for a long haul. We're right there with you.