Poison Ivy

There are three main plants that often get mixed up in the world of Poison Ivy; Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. In the Illinois and Indiana area the most common is Poison Ivy by a long shot, in our area Poison Sumac is very rare. Poison Ivy is actually not an Ivy at all, it is actually Toxicodendron radicans, a poisonous Asian and North American plant. The plant secretes an oil, urushiol, that will cause a rash in most people who come in direct or indirect contact with it. The clear oil in the sap of the plant will not be noticeable on the plant nor when it transfers to your skin. Once urushiol oil gets on your skin, it usually causes an irritating, itching, blistering rash that leaves red bumps on the skin.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like?

Poison Ivy usually has three medium sized leaves that are a broad spoon-shaped leaf. Each of the leaves has three small leaflets, and in the spring it grows small yellowish-green flowers. Some varieties will have a green to off-white berry growing in the last summer or fall. The plant usually grows as a vine in the Midwest, but also can grow as a low-growing shrub.

What Do I Do If I Get Poison Ivy Oil On Me?

If you come in contact with Poison Ivy and the urushiol oil gets transferred onto your skin, here are some helpful tips on treating or dealing with the problem.

  • Rinse your skin with cold water and soap. Do not use hot water, which will open your pours and allow the oil further into the skin.
  • As hard as this part it, do not scratch the itching skin. Scratching can spread the oil and transfer it to other parts of your body, especially your face. Itching the rash can also cause an infection if scratched too hard or too much.
  • To calm the itch, use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream on the affected areas.
  • Another way to calm the itch is with a cold compress or cold, damp rag. Apply it gently, however, especially if you are blistering.
  • Wash all of the clothing you were wearing when you came into contact with the plant. The oil can easily stick onto your clothing and then transfer onto someone else.
  • If you were gardening when you came in contact with the plant, wash all of the tools that you used or handled that day. The urushiol oil can last on those tools for a very long time.

See your doctor right away if any of the following symptoms occure.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • The rash spreads to the majority of your body
  • Swelling in body parts, especially your eyelids

Common Myths About Poison Ivy

  • Dead plants are not a problem.  - Actually, the oil can stay on the dead plant for up to 5 years.
  • Burn the plants when you find them. -  Actually don’t. The oil will go airborne when you burn the plant and the fallout could land on someone else.
  • Lots of people are immune. - Only abou 10% of the population is not allergic to the urushiol oil. A persons first exposure to the oil usually takes longer to effect the person, usually around a week.
  • As long as I don’t touch the plant I’m safe. - Not true. The oil can transfer onto clothing, tools, and other items that can be touched and then infected.


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