Learn How to Identify and Treat Poison Ivy!

By Amanda Roland
poison ivy

Now that the weather is warmer, you’re probably itching to get outside. This is the perfect time to have some quality, one-on- one time with nature, whether that’s going camping or taking
a leisurely stroll through Payne’s Prairie. Scarier than any campfire story, however, is what’s lurking just close by. Poison ivy goes hand-in-hand with hot, summer months, and the more time you spend outside, your chance of coming in contact with this irritating plant increases. So, it’s time learn how to stay away from and treat poison ivy!

When in doubt, play it safe by remembering the classic saying, “leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, usually grows on a shrub or climbing vine, containing three leaves with smooth or toothed edges. If you want to escape this plant for good, consider moving to California, Alaska or Hawaii, as those are the only three states in America where poison ivy isn’t found. Unfortunately, poison ivy calls Florida its home, and can be found on trails, riverbanks, trees and even the fence in your yard. Anna De Benedetto, M.D., who is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Florida, says that she tends to see more cases of poison ivy during the time of year when people spend more time outdoor hiking in the woods or gardening.

Why are we so scared of poison ivy? It is just a plant after all. poison ivy contains an oil, called urushiol that causes an allergic reaction such as a rash and blisters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when exposed to 50 milligrams of urushiol, an amount that it less than one grain of table salt, 80-to-90% of adults will develop a rash. The CDC also states that people can be exposed to urushiol not only by direct contact but also by touching tools, livestock or clothing that has urushiol on them, as well as inhaling particles containing urushiol from burning plants. If you made contact with poison ivy, some symptoms include: itchy skin; a red, bumpy rash; blisters and swelling.

Okay, I have poison ivy — What do I do?

“The patient should wash the affected area with water and soap to remove any residual oil, to limit or contain the spread of the dermatitis,” said De Benedetto. “Also, all clothing and objects contaminated with the oil should be carefully washed and keep in mind. Even pets might carry the oil on their fur, but they don’t get the dermatitis.”

Sydney Park Brown states in her article, “Identification of Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac and Poisonwood,” that applying over-the-counter skin creams containing the active ingredient bentoquatam will absorb the urushiol oil and can prevent or lessen a reaction if applied before contact. Brown also notes that the rash can last two to five weeks, and it is, thankfully, not contagious and will not spread. However, systemic complications can occur if the blisters become infected.

“In more severe or extensive cases, if there are large fluid-filled blisters or when the rash involves the face and/or the genitals, it is probably a good idea to see a dermatologist,” said De Benedetto. Having poison ivy isn’t fatal, in fact, De Benedetto states that mild and limited cases usually do not need to be treated with prescription medication. However, seeing a doctor or dermatologist could help alleviate the itch. “Moderate to severe cases should see a dermatologist or family doctor to help control the itch and pain, as well as prevent or help monitor infection as well as scar and discoloration secondary to the rash,” said De Benedetto.

While this information is important to remember, don’t post-pone your summer plans. Go on that hike that you’ve been planning. Just simply preparing and knowing how to identify and treat poison ivy will make sure the only thing blistering about your summer is the heat.


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