Poison Ivy

February 20th, 2013 posted by Family Corner Staff

Poison Ivy. Even typing it makes me itchy. It’s amazing that wildlife actually enjoys this plant that makes most of us pretty miserable. Many of the same treatments and tips can be used for poison oak and sumac too. First, NEVER burn these plants. The sap contains a chemical called urushiol that causes the rash, blisters and itching. Though it’s INSIDE the plant, they are damaged easily by animals, humans, wind, or weather and when we come into contact with the plant the sap gets on our skin. Beware though—long sleeves and pants may protect your skin but when you touch the material that has been into contact with the sap you will have a reaction as well. It’s tough stuff! It can remain potent for a year and often even longer if it’s not washed off. The best thing is to avoid all three plants whenever possible. Sometimes this is just impossible for whatever reason. Here are some tips to consider once you know you’ve been in contact.

If you realize it quickly enough—within 5 minutes-you may be able to wash it off without a reaction. It’s worth a try! Wash the skin with soap and water (throwing your clothing in the washer or somewhere safe til you can wash). If you don’t have running water, try a stream, lake, pond–whatever is near. Also, don’t forget that your shoes will have the sap on them too, so care for those as well. Another note: even if it’s been more than 5 minutes, wash your hands and any areas you think may have been exposed. My husband unknowingly rubbed the sap into his eye area last year and it was rather nasty. The second thing to remember: not everyone reacts the same. About 15 percent of people are truly “allergic” to these plants and instead of the usual 24-48 hours before reacting they may start into 4-12 and it may be severe.

If you notice swelling or large blisters this early, especially on the face, get them to a medical facility quickly. If you, or a family member, has trouble breathing at any point after being exposed, or the blisters are in the eye area call a doctor or hospital. Do not use topical creams/gels that contain benzocaine, zirconium or antihistamines. They can cause an extra reaction and may make it worse. Place a cool damp cloth on the effected area and sit where a fan can blow over the compress. It will help the skin not feel so hot, and cut down on the itching and oozing. Of course, the old standby, Calamine lotion can be used as well. Take lukewarm baths with 1/2 cup of cornstarch and/or baking soda. You can also add some oatmeal to a clean sock, tie it and add it to the bath. After it’s wet, then squeeze it and it will cloud up the water and relieve the itching some.

The water must be lukewarm, never hot. Try covering any oozing blisters with a clean piece of gauze that has been soaked in baking soda and water. The sap can get on pet fur and then spread to you or the kids. Try to be aware of their exposure if you can. One more warning–just because you react mildly the first time, does not mean it will be like that the second exposure. Often if will be a worse reaction each time. So, don’t take that mild reaction lightly.

KILLING POISON IVY Poison Ivy is VERY stubborn and it’s a survivor. As mentioned, NEVER burn it. I always hesitate to recommend chemicals, but as a last resort a product such as Round-up or Brush-B-Gone can be used–it may take several times. Be VERY careful and use this away from kids and pets and ANY edible plants. Oh, and by the way, dead poison ivy will still cause a reaction. Digging the roots completely out of the ground is a sure but, often difficult to do. This is a great option if you find it when it’s small.

Do NOT mow poison ivy. The bits of plant and sap will fly all over the place and it won’t be pleasant. If it’s low growing, you can smother it with black plastic for several months (at least). Whenever attempting to remove poisonous plants wear heavy gloves, a paint (safety) mask, and protective clothing. It you end up having to work at this for a long period of time, take breaks, and change clothing–placing it directly in the washer. I’ve done some experimenting with vinegar and even ammonia on a vining piece of poison ivy that has invaded our yard from the neighbors to no avail. I just found a tip for using vinegar with salt and dish soap added that I will try. You’ll find many tips calling for using straight salt or heavy salt water on weeds and poison plants.

Beware, salt will not only kill all in it’s path, but it could also damage the soil to where nothing will grow in that spot for years. Use it with care. Poison ivy, oak and sumac are tough plants that need to be watched for not just at home, but when camping or visiting nature centers, parks or any wild area. Check the area out when you arrive and talk to the rangers or staff, especially if you have kids with you. Make up a little kit to take with you that has cornstarch, baking soda, gauze, clean old socks or cotton muslin, calamine lotion, a soap such as Aveeno and allergy medicines if any one in the family needs them.

Family Corner Staff (674 Posts)

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Cindy Rowe
Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

Cindy Rowe is the owner/editor of Crazylou Creations blog. On the blog, you will find a little bit of crazy, and a whole lot of fun! As a FT working mother, she still finds time to create crafts, play around in the kitchen, plan parties and exercise. You'll find all of this and more on her blog!

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