Poison Ivy

Ah…, poison Ivy: Steeped in folklore. People have heard so many things at the coffee shop or water coolers (9/10ths of which are worse than useless), that we need to clear the air a bit. Here are some hard facts:

  1. The stuff that the ivy excretes that causes the problem is an oil, that can be easily transferred to your skin (from the plant, pets, tools, clothing and footwear), and can be ‘volatilised’ (evaporated) with heat. The Leaves, stems, and even roots of the plant can give off the oil. Washing in water or alcohol won’t help. Detergents and, to some extent, other oils will.
  2. The reaction to the oil is an allergy-like sensitivity. This causes a lot of confusion and folklore because many people are born "immune" — at first. The more you are exposed, the higher the likelihood you'll react, and when you do react, the worse it’ll be upon every subsequent exposure. Some people get so sensitive; they can actually break out when passing a stand of ivy on a hot day. When people brag to me “I'm immune,” I tell them “Don't push it. You may not be the next time.”
  3. They're perennials with woody stems. Poison ivy can have a lot of variation in leaf size, shape and colour, (note the leaf is always made up of three leaflets, with the middle leaflet’s stem being longer than the other two), and the plant can also assume a number of shapes: short ground-hugging plants, taller bushes, and even taller vines growing up a tree. There is no poison oak in Ontario (BC is the only province to be so lucky), and any reports of  you may have heard of seeing it in Ontario are a case of mistaken identity.

When you find yourself suddenly looking down (as I have once or twice), and finally notice you're in a whole field of the stuff, and can't see how you got in (or how you'll get out), what should you do?

First off, don't panic. You have around four hours to clean up. Because it's an oil, it can be removed by detergent. (e.g. Laundry detergent and even dish soap). Scrub as if you were covered in axle-grease: Long and hard. Don't worry about the harsh soap on your skin, you can apply had-cream or something later — it won't be as bad as the rash.

Clothing should be washed with hot water and plenty of detergent, footwear likewise (see other article re boot care). Tools should be wiped with detergent-soaked cloth, dried, and wiped with a rag and oil. Wear gloves and dispose of them and the rags in a plastic bag.  Do not burn them!

GHTC Newsletter 2017 October

Summer Green

Getting Relief!

Poison ivy rash usually isn't dangerous, but it sure is uncomfortable.  The American Academy of Dermatology offers these suggestions to help ease the itch:

  • Take a short, lukewarm oatmeal bath.  You can use a solution bought at the drug store or follow directions in this link.
  • Take a lukewarm bath and add 1 cup of baking soda to the bath water.
  • Take a short, cool shower.
  • Apply calamine lotion to the rash.
  • Apply a cool compress (wash cloth dampened with cold water) to the itchy skin.
  • Don't use a topical antihistamine, which could worsen the rash. But do take an oral antihistamine.


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