30. Leaflets Three, Let Poison Ivy Be

A walk through the woods can include encounters with birds, small animals, and beautiful foliage. But if you encounter poison ivy along the way, you may get an itchy rash as a souvenir of your nature trek.

The problem is caused by urushiol, a sap from poison ivy, poison oak, and other related plants. Strictly speaking, urushiol is an allergen, not a poison and not everyone reacts to it. If you’re allergic to it and touch the plant directly or come in contact with clothing or pets that have been exposed to it, you’ll develop a rash in a day or two. The rash is red. It itches, has oozing blisters, and is sometimes accompanied by swelling.

Being able to recognize these poisonous plants is the key to avoiding them and the rash they trigger. And the old adage, “Leaflets three, let it be” holds true. But if it’s too late and you have an accidental brush with the plant, here’s what to do.

  1. Remove and wash all clothes and shoes that have been contaminated. If an article isn’t washable, isolate it in a ventilated area for three weeks.

  2. Wash your skin with soap and water. (Try to do this within 10 minutes of exposure to the plant.) Apply rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes to the affected skin area. Or use an over-the-counter (OTC) product (brand name Tecnu) which removes the poison ivy sap. (Do this within 2 to 8 hours of exposure.) Then rinse with water.

  3. To relieve itching, apply calamine (not Caladryl) lotion, an OTC topical steroid cream, or a paste of 3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water. Taking an oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl) can also help.

  4. If weeping blisters develop, cover them with gauze and keep them wet with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda in 1 quart of water.

  5. If symptoms grow worse, the rash spreads to the mouth, eyes, or genitals, or you have had severe reactions to poison ivy (or poison oak) in the past, consult a physician.

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems