Stung by a plant

A different kind of summer sting


Sunshine and soda garnished with a lime. Two delight's of summer. But for some people that delicious combo can cause a reaction on your skin you might mistake for bruises or poison ivy. It's called a phototoxic reaction, and it happens when you touch certain plants and are then exposed to sunlight.

"I've always grown up around water and I love to swim," said Ali Behrens.

But last year during spring break, Behrens, who is a life guard, developed a strange, long red mark on her leg after a dip in the ocean.  

"Then it started to get really red and blistered," she explained.

Behrens thought it was a jelly fish sting. The Mayo Clinic told her it was a sting, but from a plant and the sun, not a jelly fish.

"I was kind of disappointed because a jelly fish sounds cooler," said Behrens.

"There are certain plants and fruits in nature such as dill, buttercup, bergamot, musk ambrette, parsley, parsnip and citrus fruits, especially lime, that when these chemicals that they contain hit your skin and then it's exposed to ultraviolet light, a chemical reaction occurs and you can either develop a dermatitis, which is called phytophotodermatitis, plant-light-induced eczema, or you can develop a phototoxic dermatitis, meaning plant sunburn dermatitis," explained Dawn Davis, M.D., Mayo Clinic Dermatology.

Typical scenarios would be when you brush up against certain plants on a hike, or when you squeeze a lime into a drink. you get the juice on your hands, touch your arm and when the sun hits that spot, the dermatitis appears. in the shape of drips or even hand prints. 

"A lot of people think that it's poison ivy with the lines and the streaks, but it's indeed not. It's a phytophotodermatitis," said Davis.

Behrens says her reaction was a bit painful, but over time, it's fading away.

Davis says the skin reactions often look like poison ivy or handprints. And some people think those marks are the result of physical abuse. Dr. Davis says some sleuthing about what transpired can help figure out whether it's bruising or a phototoxic reaction.

For more information, go to mayoclinic.org or you can call the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville. That number is  904-953-2272.