It’s that time of the year again. Poison ivy is growing rampant in many sections of the country, probably no matter in what part of which country you may reside in North America. It grows in the woods and in cities, as well. No matter if it’s chopped away one season, it’s a bet that it will return the next. If only houseplants were as strong-willed as poison ivy, we’d all have green thumbs!
Recent news reports have stated that global warming is producing a super-strain of poison ivy. In global warming, the carbon dioxide levels are increased and that’s causing the itch-producing substance in poison ivy — urushiol or commonly misspelt "urushol" — to grow even stronger and more toxic.
Urushiol is found within all parts of poison ivy, from leaves to roots. Even if you haven’t had an allergic reaction to the plant in the past, it’s wise to stick to the old adage of “leaflets three, let them be.”
I like to photograph poison ivy and have never had an allergic reaction, but even I’m leery with these latest reports. Over the past few years, I’ve found many folks aren’t familiar with what poison ivy actually looks like, so I’ve been spreading the news with images. It’s an attractive plant, but you’ve been warned!
If you’re exposed to the plant, immediately wash the affected area; that‘s most effective if done within 30 minutes of contact. A product such as an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is recommended. If you touched the plant, that alone can often bring about a reaction as the urushiol oozes from any damaged areas of it, so be careful not to touch your face, eyes, or anywhere else before a complete scrub-down of your hands. If you’ve walked through poison ivy, launder any clothing thoroughly with hot water and soap. An alcohol rubdown of shoes should rid them of the toxin.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction to poison ivy usually won’t show until a few days after contact. Those symptoms include:
- Extreme itching along with a red rash.
- Streaks or patches where the plant touched the skin.
- Rash includes red bumps and often large, weeping blisters.
- Reactions can vary from mild to severe. Extreme cases may require hospitalization.
The worst stage of the reaction is usually the end of the first week after exposure. The reaction can last up to three weeks. Once a rash develops, over-the-counter calamine lotion and hydrocortisone creams may bring some relief. If the reaction is severe, seek medical assistance.
If you’re trying to remove poison ivy from your property, cover exposed skin despite the weather. I’d recommend gardening gloves in addition to long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants. Don’t ever burn the plant in an effort to destroy it as urushiol can be breathed in from the smoke and could possibly create a worse reaction.
This is indeed a case where abstinence is the best policy, remember the “leaflets three.”