Last Updated on June 3, 2010 by Hanna Trafford
Beware of this three-leaf vine or low shrub with greenish flowers and white berries. It appears harmless but can cause serious skin irritations. Before you head out for a walk in the woods, learn to identify poison ivy and know how to take care of a skin reaction if you get one.
Here is what you need to know:
- Each part of the plant – leaves, stems, fruits, flowers and roots contain toxic resin called urushiol. This oil is present in the plant throughout the year, but a skin reaction is most common in the spring and early summer when leaves are tender. Poison Ivy’s cousins – Poison Oak, which grows as high as six feet and Poison Sumac, which grows mainly in the swampy woods or shrub swamps also contain urushiol and can cause the same skin reactions.
- About 85 per cent of people will react to contact with Poison Ivy. The reaction, which can take a few days to appear, can typically involve redness and itching that quickly develops into small blisters. Sometimes, a secondary infections can develop. The reactions tend to appear in straight lines because of the way someone has brushed against the plant. The reaction can also appear in different times, depending on what part of the body came in contact with the resin first and it is based on different thickness of the skin.
- Best treatment is avoidance. Here are a few additional tips:
- Stay clear of any three-leafed plants that have flowers and berries.
- Wear a long sleeves shirt, long plants and closed-toe shoes.
- Watch your family dog – don’t let him run off into the woods. The oils from poison ivy can be transferred from his fur to your skin. Hose him down if you think he might have touched poison ivy.
- If you need to take a break, sit in open areas and avoid brushing your ankles against plants.
- Wash your hands, body and clothes carefully after being outdoors, even if you don’t think you came into contact with poisonous plants. Alkaline soap is better than a pH neutral soap in breaking down toxins.
- Use cold water instead of hot, which tends to open pores and aid in absorption of hte poison oil.
- If you come in contact with poison ivy, try not to touch any other body part because the poison spreads quickly. Wash the affected area of your body within 10 minutes of contact, using lots of cool water and soap to get rid of as much of the poison oil as possible.
- If you get a rash, soak in lukewarm water and put baggies of ice on the affected area. This will aid the itching. Calamine lotion can also be used to dry the blisters. If you want more effective rash reliever, get a prescription from your doctor for a topical steroid. You will to do this quickly, since it is most effective when applied immediately.
- If you find poison ivy,poison sumac or poison oak in your backyard, here are tips on what to do:
- Slowly pull out the plants with your hands wrapped in a plastic bag
- Put a stake in the ground before you get the entire root out – this will makr the spot and remind you to return later to finish removing the root.
- Place the plants in a clearly marked heavy-duty garbage bag and put it with your household garbage. Do not throw the plants into your composter!
- Don’t burn the plants, the poison becomes gas that can cause serious reaction to skin and lungs.