Wednesday, April 1, 2009


It's that time again!!! There are dewberry blooms out everywhere, green berries are starting to form and.....hey, wait, that "dewberry" plant over there doesn't have thorns...

We went on a little hike today and while I was busy manning the GPS and mentally making a note to come pick dewberries in a few weeks, Josh pointed out there was also quite a bit of poison ivy leafing out. The best part was when Sierra (in what I swear was slow motion) tripped on a dewberry vine and skidded face first into some poison ivy. Lovely. Seems like as good a time as any to make a little poison ivy public service announcement....

What it does:
*Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac all have an oil called urushiol in them. When this oil comes in contact with your skin, you may have an allergic reaction to it (85% of the population does).
*Kids under 7 are unlikely to react to poison ivy. People who are "immune" may develop sensitivity.
*The smoke can cause a reaction too, so burning poison ivy is a very bad idea (if you think the rash is bad, try having it in your lungs)
*If you wash all the oil off, the rash and the fluid in the blisters is not contagious. Even with the oil off, you may continue to break out in new spots (generally the ones less exposed or with less sensitive skin) for about a week. You may also be re-exposing yourself through your clothes, sheets, couch, dog, etc....the key is to get rid of the oil
*The rash typically breaks out 8-72 hours after exposure. It can take 7-10 days the first time you are exposed.
*The poison ivy/oak/sumacs are in the same family as cashews, mangoes and pistachios (that's why you never see cashews sold in their shells---there's urushiol in the shell). If you know you are allergic to cashews, mangoes or pistachios, you'd do well to steer VERY clear of the poison ivy/oak/sumac family since you may have a more severe reaction than other folks.

How to recognize it:
*The typical "leaves of 3, leave it be" is a good general rule. Plenty of non-toxic plants also have three leaves, but better safe than sorry, right? If you know poison ivy is in an area, stay clear--the roots can cause the rash too.
*I've read that if you crush a leaf between two white pieces of paper, then let them dry, the urushiol will turn brown. Of course, this probably exposes you and while you're doing your experiment you're wasting valuable time you could be using to clean up.
*If you spend a decent amount of time outdoors, it's very worthwhile to study pictures of the plants and learn what they look like

What to do:
*If you know you're sensitive and you are going to be outdoors, invest in some ivy block or a similar product. It's not perfect and needs to be reapplied often, but it works pretty well.
*If you knowingly come in contact with poison ivy, you need to wash off as soon as possible. This can be tricky---water just spreads the oil and soap will break down your natural skin oils, which allows the urushiol better access. What's worked best for me is alcohol, followed by LOTS of lukewarm water (hot will open your pores and give the urushiol better access). Soap doesn't really do much of anything. The key is LOTS of whatever you're using and pour it on--no wiping allowed since that will just spread the oil. If you're close to home, a long, cool shower is in order, no baths.
*In the time between contact and washing, don't touch anything. Specifically, the skin on your hands is often resistant to absorbing and reacting to the urushiol, but if you scratch your eye or touch your face, you'll certainly break out there. I have absolutely no proof this is true, but I read on a medical website that the most common break out areas are the forearms, the lower legs and male genitalia. YEOUCH hands off, guys!!
*Wash your clothes and sheets well (several times never hurt)

If you do get the rash:
*I hear showers as hot as you can stand them helps the itch for several hours
*Be extra super sure you have washed EVERYTHING that could be contaminated with the oil
*I know lots of sites say home remedies work fine and blah, blah, blah, but my doctor was able to give me some sort of cream (I'm sure it was a corticosteroid, but I don't remember and it was several years ago) the last time I broke out that was wonderful (as in, I'll dance and sing the praises of this treatment) more itch and the rash was quick to clear. Well worth the doctor visit.

And if you really want to fear poison ivy, there's a very interested page here with a gallery of photos of some rashes. Warning, it gets gruesome.

1 comment:

TennZen said...

The one thing that has worked for me and mine is Fels-Naphtha laundry soap. It's in the white and green wrapper and can be found in the grocery store near the laundry detergents.

Washing the skin directly with the soap helps break up the oils that carry the toxin from poison ivy. Grated and added to a wash cycle, about 1/16th a bar's worth of Fels-Naptha per load, will eliminate residual resins that can remain in clothes up to a year.

I first learned about this remedy when I was in 4-H. Our camp counselors used this on us when we'd been exposed to poison ivy or poison oak. I also knew Boy Scouts who used it.

I've used it as an adult on myself and on my kids (and our clothes) and we've never had problems with breakouts.

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