HEALTH

WHAT IS YOUR POI­SON IVY IQ?

201 Family - - CONTENTS - – LINDA PER­ILLO-ZAZ­ZALI

Poi­son ivy

Poi­son ivy sounds so com­mon, and with the sum­mer months upon us, ev­ery par­ent fears it, ev­ery land­scaper dresses in ar­mor to avoid it, and only the few who have a de­gree in botany and a Ph.D. in hor­ti­cul­ture can al­ways iden­tify it.

Let’s start with iden­ti­fy­ing the itchy, scratchy, blis­tery cul­prits. There are three plants: poi­son ivy, poi­son oak and poi­son sumac.

The most com­mon in our area are poi­son ivy and poi­son sumac. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) iden­tify th­ese plants as car­ry­ing sap oil, specif­i­cally urush­iol, which can cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion when it comes into con­tact with skin. The sap oil is re­leased when the leaf or other plant parts are bruised, dam­aged or burned. When ex­posed to 50 mi­cro­grams of urush­iol, an amount less than one grain of ta­ble salt, 80 to 90 per­cent of adults will de­velop a rash.

Eastern poi­son ivy is a com­mon incog­nito plant, of­ten blend­ing in with the lush sum­mer fo­liage here. It grows on the ground, climbs and can even be an abun­dant shrub. We get into trou­ble be­cause the plant is so close to road­sides, paths, ponds and streams from the Mid­west to the East Coast. It’s right at leg level and reach­able by both adult and tiny hands.

The re­main­ing 10 to 15 per­cent of peo­ple who do not con­tract the rash when com­ing in con­tact with the plant are com­pletely im­mune. They can, lit­er­ally, take a bath with the plant and kiss it with­out ever hav­ing a re­ac­tion. Some peo­ple are im­mune, but it does not mean that they won’t be­come al­ler­gic to the plant some­time down the road, al­though un­likely. Like other al­ler­gens, some­times re­peated ex­po­sure breaks down the im­mu­nity bar­rier. The good news: It is very un­com­mon for chil­dren younger than age 5 to get the gross, itch­i­ness of the hated plant, and sen­si­tiv­ity can also dis­solve with age, so the el­derly may even be less sus­cep­ti­ble.

What is the best way to min­i­mize ex­po­sure? For­est rangers have doused them­selves in an­tiper­spi­rant on their ex­posed skin, as the alu­minum chlorhy­drate may help cre­ate a bar­rier be­tween the skin and oil pen­e­tra­tion.

WHAT DO I DO IF EX­POSED?

You have only about 30 min­utes to get the oil off your skin before it ac­ti­vates and seeps into the outer lay­ers. Wash in cold wa­ter right away. DO NOT use hot wa­ter as it opens up your pores. DO NOT use soap, as that may speed up the spread. Ap­ply al­co­hol to the skin right af­ter, or if you do not have ac­cess to proper wa­ter sup­ply, try al­co­hol prior un­til you can rinse off. DO NOT touch any­one or any other part of your skin, clothes or your car! If you are near a pool or ocean, the chlo­rine or salt­wa­ter may help de­lay the on­set of the rash.

HOW LONG BEFORE THE RASH AP­PEARS?

It takes ap­prox­i­mately 8 to 24 hours before you see rash signs. It will ap­pear on spot of first con­tact, but its in­vis­i­bil­ity to a poor, un­sus­pect­ing vic­tim may re­sult in spread­ing through general con­tact.

I HAVE IDEN­TI­FIED THE RASH. IS THERE ANY­THING I CAN USE?

It’s a good idea to travel with a sup­ply of Tecnu. How­ever, Tecnu is only ef­fec­tive af­ter com­ing in con­tact with the oil within a half hour. Zan­fel is also good for mi­nor rashes, but if the rash be­comes out of con­trol or heads to the face and eyes, see a doc­tor. Pre­scrip­tion reme­dies will speed up the heal­ing process. The rash it­self will last about two weeks, but with proper aids, in­flam­ma­tion and itch­ing can be less­ened.

AM I CON­TA­GIOUS?

Poi­son ivy can spread if the oil is on some­one’s ex­posed cloth­ing, car seats, hands, skin, etc. The per­son whose rash is not ev­i­dent, or has had no ev­i­dence of a re­ac­tion, may be a ves­sel for the poi­sonous oil.

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