WHAT IS YOUR POISON IVY IQ?
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.