As you enjoy the great outdoors this season, be sure that you’re on the lookout for poison ivy – the harmless-looking plant that populates wooded areas. Merely brushing up against poison ivy can lead to a painful, contagious rash and for those who are extremely sensitive, even swelling and fever. Read on to learn more about poison ivy and how to protect your loved ones.
How Poison Ivy Works
Poison ivy leaves are covered with an oil called urushiol oil which is what causes irritation of the skin. The scariest thing about this oil is that it stays potent for a really long time. So if it get’s on your kids’ clothes and they just throw them in the hamper, you can potentially be infected by just touching the clothes when you go to wash them.
Poison Ivy Symptoms
Some people are more sensitive to urushiol oil than others.. and some people are completely immune. Symptoms can range from nonexistent to mildly uncomfortable to extreme.
- Skin peeling (typically as the rash is healing)
Even those who appear to be immune to poison ivy should avoid it. Immunity can change several times throughout a person’s life. Plus – they can still spread the oil to those who are sensitive to it!
Avoiding Poison Ivy
In order to avoid poison ivy, it’s crucial to know how to properly identify it. There are a few different varieties of poison ivy, all of which should be avoided. Some types are shrub-like and grow close to the ground, while there are more vine-like types that creep along the ground and up trees and other supports. Poison-Ivy.org offers some great pictures of what poison ivy looks like throughout the year and in different regions.
Wearing long clothes that cover the skin while you’re in wooded areas is another good way to lower your risk of exposure.
If You’re Exposed…
If you realize that you or someone else has brushed up against a poison ivy plant, fortunately you still have time to minimize the rash outbreak. Follow these steps as quickly as possible after contact:
- Remove clothing and place directly in the washer.
- Cleanse the area thoroughly with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. These help dissolve the oil and remove it from the skin.
- Shower off in cold water – hot or warm water will open the pores and make the oil more easily absorbed.
- Wash your clothes in very hot water 2-3 times-use bleach if your clothes will allow it. Run an empty load with a splash of bleach through your empty washer afterward to clean it.
If the damage is done and you or someone you love does end up with a poison ivy rash, calamine lotion and oatmeal baths can help with the itching. Another trick I learned at summer camp is an old gardeners secret that works. Place white cider vinegar in a bowl with salt and stir to form a thick mixture. Apply the vinegar/salt mixture to the infected area by blobbing it on with cotton balls. Soak the cotton ball with vinegar and pile the salt on top with a spoon and apply. This mixture dries the rash out quickly, continue to apply throughout the day. MayoClinic suggests visiting a doctor if:
- The reaction is severe or widespread
- The rash affects your face or genitals
- Blisters are oozing pus
- You develop a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
- The rash doesn’t get better within a few weeks
May Every Step You Take Be Healthy!