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.


Susan Johnston said...

Yikes! That sounds miserable. Fortunately, we don't have much poison oak in the city. ;)

Anonymous said...

I can attest to this...17wks pregnant and have poison oak on my arms..not pleasant to say the least...have the steroid cream and that has helped a little...i just want it to be gone!!

Jennifer Margulis said...

Expect to have it for a long time -- at least 3 weeks and as long as 5 or 6. It really takes forever to clear up. Now I have horrible scars all over my left leg, and my hands and feet where it spread are peeling in round circles. But at least it doesn't itch any more. I feel grateful every day for that.

Stephanie Stiavetti said...

Great information to have! I have several first-time pregnant friends, and will definitely pass this along.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am 16 weeks pregnant and have poison oak I thought it was a spider bite on my buttocks that spread on one side of the buttocks now is on my leg and waist near my belly,it is so itchy and I feel pain it looks alittle like a burn...I use to love trees now I wish everone of them was removed from the earth!!! I cannot sleep,sit or function all I do is cry from picking what I thought was just weeds:-(Today,I am going to a dermetologist lets see what he says.I hope it does not get passed on to my unborn child or affect it in any way...Scared in Staten Island

About the book said...

Dear Scared in Staten Island,

It's so awful. Horrible. But nothing bad will happen to your unborn child. Don't worry. You may be prescribed a topical steroid cream. It really helps, even though it's not indicated for pregnant women.

It will go away. You just have to suffer through it.

I'm so sorry this is happening to you.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm pretty lucky. In "real life" I am super sensitive to poison oak and have had some really bad cases of it. I'm currently pregnant and was recently exposed to poison oak but this is actually one of the most mild cases of it that I've ever had! It didn't spread as much as it typically does and it dried up quickly. Phew! I got lucky!!

Anonymous said...

Blah! Im 22 weeks prego and have poison oak all over :( Not very fun at all!!

Anonymous said...

Im 15weeks and totally covered!!! It started on my arms then went down my back, up my neck, my legs, my face!! Its horrible!! I just want to scream :((

Miss Claire said...

Well I am almost 21 weeks pregnant and my husband went out in the woods with my brothers. When my man came home we had sex and went to bed. The next day it turns out both my brothers had gotten poison oak (my husband cant get it). Now 2 days later I'm starting to itch, take a normal shower and notice all the red bumps and patches. I have poison oak all over my legs my back my belly as well as my crotch. I am slightly freaked out. please tell me the baby and i will be ok and i just need to wait it out?

Jennifer Margulis said...

Claire - I think you will be MISERABLE for awhile. Just miserable. But you and the baby WILL be okay. I would go to a doctor if you start to get uncomfortable -- I went to a naturopath and got Chinese herbs for being overheated (whatever that means). They really helped me feel better. The doctor also prescribed a topical steroid. I didn't want to take it. I waited until I couldn't stand it. But then I did put it on and it really helped. But I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't awful. It's awful awful awful. Hang in there. I'll be thinking healing thoughts for you.

Laura said...

I just got over the WORST case of poison oak and I'm 32weeks pregnant. Let me tell you, contrary to the author of this article, I tried the homeopathic medicine Apis mellifica for the swelling and Sulfur for the rash & I had a lot of improvement within 6hours of taking it. I would alternate one pellet of the Apis and one pellet Sulfur every half hour for four hours, then alternate every hour. Let me tell u I had it covering my entire face, eye swollen shut, all the way to my knees, down right horrible and painful. I didn't start taking the homeopathic medicine until day 4 when the pain in my face was just terrible, but I swear the Apis made my face start to deflate. There was so much improvement. I have never used homeopathic meds before, but dang they REALLY worked. Maybe not for everyone but it can't hurt to try when your suffering. They're afordable and safe during pregnancy. I hope this info can help someone the way it saved me.