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Do I Have Poison Ivy?

Summertime offers a wide variety of fun outdoor activities, so it’s important not to let poison ivy interfere with the good times! Being able to effectively identify, diagnose and treat this common warm-weather irritant will make you feel at ease gardening, hiking, camping and having fun outside!

What is Poison Ivy?

 Abundant in most of North America and Canada, poison ivy is a woody vine that secretes urushiol, a chemical that irritates the skin. Although approximately 25% of people are immune to the negative effects of this plant, the rest of the population experiences an itching rash, the severity of which depends on how susceptible the individual is to the plant’s poison. Poison ivy is a member of the Abundantin family of plants, and is found mostly in woody areas. It is easily recognized by its three leaves, which range from a light to dark green, and its grey-white berries. In the autumn, the leaves of the poison ivy plant turn a bright red color.

  • Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: This site offers helpful advice on the poison ivy plant, including pictures to aid with identification.
  • Poison Ivy: Interesting information on this plant, including the three ways it commonly grows, as a shrub, vine or ground cover.
  • Poison Ivy Quiz: Take this quiz to see if you are able to identify the poison ivy among other harmless plants.
  • Poison Ivy Map: This site includes a map of the areas of the US where poison ivy, oak and sumac are commonly found.

How is it contracted?

Poison Ivy can be contracted through touching the roots, vine of leaves of the plant, all of which contain the irritant urushiol. It is also possible to contract poison ivy indirectly through second-hand contact with an animal or the clothing of a person who has recently brushed up against the plant. Amazingly, airborne contraction is also possible. Those who are extremely vulnerable to the plant’s poison can contract poison ivy from wind or dust, and smoke coming from burning plants can even cause possible life-threatening internal irritation and damage.

How can I tell if I have it?

The classic symptoms of Poison Ivy include redness, swelling and severe itching of the skin. After exposure to the plant, these symptoms usual take twelve hours to two days to develop, but in some cases can take up to a week, depending on how quickly the person’s skin absorbs the urushiol. Initially resembling an insect bite, the infected area usually develops into itchy red bumps or a rash of blisters that often follow a straight line on the skin. The blisters of a person who is highly allergic to the toxin may turn into fluid-filled pustules.

Treatment

First, thoroughly wash the infected skin with soap and warm water to eliminate any poison that the skin hasn’t already absorbed. Next, it’s time to start treating the skin. For mild to moderate cases of poison ivy, applying Calamine lotion or a homemade paste of baking soda and water is a popular and highly effective method of treatment. Taking a hot shower can help to dry out the outer layer of damaged skin and speed up the healing process. For further relief from the itching, try taking an oatmeal bath, which also encourages healing of the skin. While these remedies are sufficiently helpful with milder symptoms, in severe cases of poison ivy seek immediate medical assistance, as antibiotics or oral steroids may be needed to prevent serious injury.

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