Recognizing Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac before it is too late
In the spring, I was pulling weeds and unknowingly pulled out a ton of poison ivy, oak and/or sumac. Within days I had a widespread rash all over my forearms. I had to get on a plane with this rash. It was not fun or comfortable. Recognizing poison ivy is something you are supposed to do in the woods, not a suburban backyard. However, mixed into all of the English ivy I was desperate to get rid of, there was in fact another vicious plant just waiting to rub its oils on me. Now that I have experienced the very painful, long-lasting results of a poison ivy encounter, I needed to make sure that I really knew what to look for when we went hiking and explored new areas, or I just wanted to weed my yard again. These are three plants everyone should be aware of, including children, if you like to go outdoors. Never again will I unknowingly walk into these plants.
What does poison ivy, oak and sumac look like?
What does a poison ivy rash look like?
The most upsetting news about the rash is that it could take more than a week to actually show up once you are exposed. Normally you will get red welts, something that looks like a red slash line in the effected area and/or red blisters that can ooze liquid. It’s as delightful as it sounds.
Even if the plant is dead you can get a rash if it brushes against you. The rash is from the oil on the plant. As long as that is still present you are at risk. If it gets on your clothing, shoes, gloves, etc. it can spread to you and those around you. Wash everything that might have come into contact with the plants.
One bit of good news is that according to WebMD.com “the rash is only spread through the oil. You can’t catch a rash from someone else by touching the blister fluid.” Phew!
What do you need to do if you come in contact with the plant and/or get a rash?
If you think you might have been exposed to any of the three poison plants, scrub the effected areas immediately, especially your hands with a harsh soap. Make sure it is something that can exfoliate and really get rid of the oil. Soaps with moisturizer in them aren’t recommended. I found Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub way too late to help with my first break out, but I make sure I now scrub with it every time I finish up in my garden. It’s gritty and can break down the oil that gets on your skin.
If you do break out in a rash, try calamine lotion and cold compresses first. I used every anti-itch medicine under the sun (or at least in the drug store aisles) and these worked the best. Oatmeal baths can also be helpful. If you have a severe case, you have trouble breathing or it shows up on parts of your body that your bikini covers up, call your doctor immediately. You may need a round of steroids to get rid of the rash. My reaction was so severe I was on steroids for over three weeks. Thankfully after a day or two the itching did subside thanks to the medication, but the marks from the rash lasted a couple of months.
Don’t get caught unawares and walk into a patch of poison ivy. Make sure your kids know exactly what these plants look like so it does’t show up in that beautiful bouquet of wildflowers they just had to pick for mommy on your walk in the woods. Educate yourself and your family so you can continue to have a wonderful time in the outdoors all year long.