Springtime plants and insects to avoid

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Precautions to take to prevent a skin reaction

As the chill of winter dissipates, you might find yourself spending more time outside. But before stepping out to enjoy a spring day, consumers should be aware of a few surprising sources of skin irritation.

Common plants and flowers, such as chrysanthemums, Peruvian lilies, tulips, and daffodil bulbs contain chemicals that can irritate the skin and cause an allergic reaction, according to experts at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

“Your skin can be affected by a wide variety of things you might find in your backyard, or even inside your home,” says Dr. Amy Chen, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “While there are simple precautions that you can take, you have to be aware of what you might run into so you can protect yourself.”

Poison ivy

Protecting yourself from springtime skin dangers starts with knowing which plants to guard yourself against. To reduce the risk of an encounter with poison ivy or poison oak, Dr. Julian Trevino, a dermatologist, recommends avoiding plants with “leaves of three.”

Additionally, he recommends wearing protective clothing or applying a barrier cream while hiking, gardening, or working where these plants grow.

Poison ivy is among the more well known rash-inducing plants, but other sources of springtime skin irritation are less well known. For example, did you know that eating or drinking citrus in the sun can cause a rash?

Citrus and sunshine

Before sitting poolside with a margarita or beer with a lime, consumers should be aware that doing so could cause a skin reaction.

“When the sun's UV rays are combined with exposure to certain plants -- such as citrus fruits, like lemons and limes -- people can develop a condition called phytophotodermatitis, which leads to a rash and darkened skin,” Trevino said in a statement.

To avoid this condition, he recommends rinsing the skin and reapplying sunscreen after eating or drinking citrus in the sun.

Hazardous plants

Other common plants can also cause reactions, Trevino noted. Here are a few plants to avoid or use protective clothing when handling:

  • Plants used in spicy foods, like chili peppers and horseradish. These contain chemicals that can irritate the skin.
  • Plants with spines and thorns, such as cacti and thistles.
  • Plants with small nettles or hairs. These can release chemicals into the skin that result in hives.
  • Flowers and bulbs including chrysanthemums, Peruvian lilies, and tulip and daffodil bulbs. These contain chemicals that can irritate the skin or result in an allergic reaction.

Insect bites and stings

Springtime also isn’t without its risk of insect bites and stings. But red, bumpy, or itchy skin isn’t the only concern when dealing with insect bites.

Certain pests can carry harmful viruses and other germs. To protect yourself from insect bites and health issues such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and the Zika virus, Trevino says it’s important to wear protective clothing.

Long sleeves and pants can help to deter insects, as can spraying clothing, shoes, and camping gear with the insect repellent permethrin. Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus can be applied to the skin.

Dr. Chen noted that most insect bites aren’t serious and can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine and topical steroids. However, it’s important to seek medical attention if a bug bite results in a persistent rash, fever, or body aches.

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