Poison Ivy: One Pesky Plant

In these long days of summer, it’s easy to find yourself craving an adventure outdoors. Whether for work or play, the sunshine and warm air call for us to join them outside even on some of the hottest days. While you’re out and about though, be wary of one of the summer’s many foes; poison ivy. Poison ivy, along with its cousins, poison oak and poison sumac, are plants with a bite, or more specifically, a rash. These nasty greens use their oily sap to protect themselves from predators and other animals that wish to do them harm. For most people, contact with this sap, known as urushiol, will leave some red, itchy welts that won’t soon be forgotten. For others, severe allergic reactions can occur, ranging from full body hives to anaphylactic shock.

Lucky for us, poison ivy, oak, and sumac are relatively easy to avoid. They often are encountered in areas of high brush or thick forests, so chances of even coming across them are limited. If you do have to be in a danger zone, the old rhyme “leaves of three, let them be,” can help you identify both poison ivy and poison oak, which grow three leaves from each stem. As for poison sumac, the additional couplet “leaves that are paired should make you scared” will help you to remember to steer clear of plants with long stems that have sets of leaves that are mirrored on both sides. Also, in late summer and fall, you can add on the poem, “berries white, take flight!” for some added reassurance.

However, if you don’t trust your expertise in plant identification, you can also protect yourself by wearing long pants and sleeved shirts, as well as donning thick gloves and shoes that completely cover your feet. If you think you’ve encountered any poisonous plants, make sure to remove your clothes carefully and wash them with detergent and warm to hot water. Remember this sap is tricky to get rid of and can stay for days on fabrics that haven’t been properly cleaned (including shoelaces, yikes!). So be sure to decontaminate any possible surfaces that may have urushiol on them.

If after all of that, you are still unfortunate enough to come in contact with any of these three plants, be ready to be miserable for at least a little while. While you can use calamine lotion, hydrocortisone creams, oatmeal baths, and cool compresses to help alleviate any rashes you may get, often the effects can be felt for days to weeks. In cases where areas with sensitive skin are affected or the rash covers a large amount of your body, seeing a medical provider for oral medications can also help treat symptoms. If the itch is still driving you crazy, antihistamines may be used to aid in quelling the pain, although with varying results.

Poisonous plants can wreak havoc on your summer plans. With a little knowledge, though, they can be easy to conquer. Staying away from potential growth sites, wearing appropriate clothing, and being able to identify these herbal enemies can help keep you safe while you enjoy yourself outdoors. However, if they do leave you with an itch you just can’t scratch, visit your nearest Twin Rivers Urgent Care for the assistance you need to overcome these crabby cousins!