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Poison ivy: Let it be

Every Memorial Day weekend, we take the kids and go tent camping here in Kansas. It’s a great way to reconnect as a family and to enjoy the great outdoors.  We go for long walks in heavily wooded areas and fish in a nearby lake, so there’s always a chance of coming into contact with poisonous plants such as poison ivy. 

I’ve heard that the best way to protect yourself from exposure to poison ivy is to remember the phrase “leaves of three, let it be.”  It’s also best to avoid plants with sharp hairs, spines or short prickles that can cause rashes and even infections.  When the poison ivy plant comes in contact with skin, the sap oil of these plants can cause an allergic reaction. You don’t always have to have direct contact with the plant to become exposed; indirect contact such as touching animals, tools or clothing also can illicit an allergic reaction. 

The best idea is to wear protective clothing, including gloves — preferably vinyl — which can help minimize your risk of skin exposure and reactions to certain plants. If you’re unfortunate enough to come into contact with poison ivy, here are some helpful tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Symptoms of Skin Contact

  • Red rash within a few days of contact
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Possible bumps, patches, streaking or weeping blisters. One thing to note: Blister fluids are not contagious 

First Aid

If you are exposed to a poisonous plant:

  • Immediately rinse skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water.
  • Rinse frequently so that wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread the sap oil of the plant.
  • Scrub under nails with a brush.
  • Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.
  • Oatmeal baths may relieve itching.
  • An antihistamine may help relieve itching.
  • In severe cases or if the rash is on the face or genitals, seek professional medical attention.
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you have a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or have had a severe reaction in the past.