Friday, July 26, 2013

Phytophotodermatitis


I love learning new stuff. And, of course, personal experience is the best teacher. But I'd rather have learned this new word at second or third hand.

You may (or may not) remember my post about the severe rash I had after pruning the abundant rue in my herb garden last Friday. I thought it was like poison ivy rash -- it itched and made little blisters -- but it didn't respond to the hydrocortisone cream in the way that poison ivy does and, along about Tuesday, with my hands looking like something out of a horror movie, I made an appointment with our local clinic. 

My appointment was for the afternoon so I decided to ask Mr. Google about rue allergy in order to tell the doctor what I thought was going on. And by the time I'd checked out various sites, I realized that this pestilence was just going to have to run its course (5 to 7 days or longer) -- there is no magic bullet. So I cancelled my appointment and went to the store and bought four different over the counter creams and sprays (Gold Bond ointment is my favorite.)

 But I digress. What I wanted to tell you was about this cool new word with which I am now intimately familiar --  Phytophotdermatitis.  Phyto (plant) photo (light)  derma (skin)  -itis (inflammation.)  Or something like that.

What it means is that there are a number of plants -- rue being one -- that secrete oils which, if rubbed on one's skin and then exposed to sunlight,  will cause skin irritation, far more akin to severe sunburn than to poison ivy rash. The rash may take on a darker or lighter appearance which may take weeks or months to fade.

One could presumably roll naked in the rue by moonlight and suffer no ill effects -- as long as one bathed well before the sun rise. I know I've read in old herbals and folk medicine books about plants that should be harvested by moonlight or in the dark of the moon. Now I think I know why. 

In my reading  I also learned of a case in which a parent was suspected of child abuse because of a lingering handprint on their child. Turned out the parent had been handling one of the plants that causes this reaction and then had laid their hand on the child's skin. And then the child had gone out in the sun...

Oh, I see lots of potential for working this little known plant/sunlight reaction into a story!

It's not just rue either. Plants causing this reaction include meadow grass, carrots, wild carrots (Queen Anne's Lace,) parsnip, celery, limes, lemons, fig leaves, mustard, and chrysanthemums...

As for me, the itching has subsided somewhat and my hands are beginning to peel. A lesson learned...
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15 comments:

katy gilmore said...

In Alaska cow parsnip is the culprit. It's particularly tormenting to runners who do trail races in the hot sun wearing skimpy clothing and presenting lots of bare skin.
Glad you are better - like to think about this appearing in a story - telltale evidence of a character at a certain place at a certain time!

Pat in east TN said...

Who'd a thought? Guess we learn new things every day. Glad you're getting better.

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Just think how that Google gave you info which would have been costly through the doc. office, probably including a prescription for the same thing you got over the counter...gotta love Google sometimes. Hope you're all better soon!

Kath Marsh said...

I discovered the same thing. I thought I was getting poison ivy reactions every summer (that take two weeks or more to heal), even though I was careful not to handle it.

My dermatologist recommended making sure your skin is not stripped of all natural oils. So milder soaps and Dove or Eucerin body washes. And then if you have dry skin make sure you have some kind of lotion on your skin. A protective layer before you come in contact. And then of course washing after.

Brian Miller said...

wow that is rather fascinating...esp with the suspected abuse as well...not going to test your theory on rolling naked at night...just in case there is still lingering oils...ha...

KarenB said...

Glad your hands are doing a bit better. It is so incredibly annoying to have an itchy rash like that!

You new word reminded me of one of my favorite phrases: photophobic sneeze reflex - the sneeze that happens when you are suddenly confronted with bright light, as when you step outside into bright sunlight.

Vicki Lane said...

Katy, it seems made for a mystery.

Photophobic sneeze reflex -- perfect!

Yes, Barb, I was rather proud of myself for cancelling the appointment --especially when I began to see improvement the next day.

Kath, I'm being sure to cove my hand and arms with sun block lotion - and then wearing long sleeves and gloves as much as possible.

Lise said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I am extremely careful and dress appropriately (long pants and sleeves, gloves, etc.) when I'm out in the woods in order to avoid the dreaded poison ivy, but never heard about phytophotodermatitis. Clearly clothing as a protective approach is important in the garden too!

NCmountainwoman said...

I'm surprised the cortisone cream had no effect but I'm glad the rash is improving. You likely already know that Benadryl might help the itching and help you sleep at night.

Darla said...

I can definitely see you working this into a story. ;-) Glad that your hands aren't as itchy, and that you are on the mend!

Friko said...

O Vicki, I could have told you about rue.
It’s a beast when wrongly handled. So are all spurges.

I hope you’re better and the experience has given you a good and usable plot idea.

Elizabeth said...

Is it called rue because you will rue that you came in contact with it?

Vicki Lane said...

A friend just emailed me "I'm sure several people have mentioned that this exact ailment figures in one episode of Downton Abbey. Mr. Mosley has a bad rash on his skin and eventually the Dowager Lady Grantham knows exactly what the problem was: weeding rue in his father's garden."

And I now I remember -- I saw that episode. Too bad I didn't pay better attention...

Tammy said...

Who knew? Good grief. It was interesting to see the list of other things that can cause the same reaction. You need some "Green Salve". The kind I get from the Amish store has chickweed in it, and it is miraculous stuff.

Hope you are doing better now.
Tammy

tipper said...

Yikes! I wasn't accused of child abuse-but one of my girls had it too when she was about 5 or 6. The rashy swelling was on her face around one eye. The girls had been decorating their mudpies with 'weeds' when she come in contact with the irritant.