Health Services

Poison Ivy

EphNotes

How To Recognize It:

Poison Ivy: Common in wooded areas and also found near lakes and streams. Often grows as a vine, but can be a shrub. The leaves are often first to turn color-red-in the fall, and, in the spring, it has yellow or green flowers or white berries.

Poison Oak: In the East and South it appears as a low shrub. On the West Coast it may be a tall shrub or a high-climbing vine. The notched leaves resemble those of the white oak tree. Its yellow berries grow in clusters and are green in the summer and off-white in winter.

Poison Sumac: Grows in boggy areas. It is a tall shrub with 7 to 13 smooth-edged leaflets on each stem. The berries are green in summer and pal yellow when mature.

Also, avoid all plants with black spots as these are marks of urushiol, the substance in poison ivy sap that causes the rash.

How To Protect Yourself:

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather
  • If you are going to be handling plants, wear vinyl gloves. Urushiol can soak through cloth, but vinyl is resistant.
  • If you think you’ve come in contact with poison ivy, react fast. The sap will come off with water, but it is best to wash it off shortly after contact.
  • Be careful not to rub the sap into broken skin or spread it to other areas of the body.
  • Wash clothes that may have come into contact with poison ivy being careful not to touch any sap that is still on the clothes.

What To Do If You Break Out:

  • If the itch is bad, your doctor will give you medication. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking the medicine.
  • Most people find cool, moist compresses helpful. Oatmeal soaks (Aveeno) also bring relief. A lotion like calamine is soothing, but don’t use products like Benadryl, which contains a drug that can make the rash worse.
  • Try not to scratch, no matter how much you itch. Scratching can break the skin and lead to infection. You can’t spread the rash by scratching, however, unless you have sap under your nails.
  • Don’t worry about giving the rash to your family. It is not contagious. The only way to get a reaction to poison ivy is to come into direct contact with the sap.
  • If you don’t know how you got the rash, do some investigating. Find the source of the sap and remove it. Some possible sources are: pets, yard tools, sports equipment, or clothing worm while hiking, gardening, or playing outdoors.

Information provided by “Patient Care”


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