Now that summer is here, chances are you and the kids will be spending more time outside – going on a road trip, maybe swimming and hanging out at the pool. And outside is great, especially in a place like Atlanta where there are plenty of trees and woods to explore. But Mother Nature has a few interesting tricks up her sleeve – tricks that you need to be aware of and steer clear of. One of those is poison ivy (well, and poison oak and poison sumac.) Wondering how you can avoid the frustration and itchy torment that is poison ivy? We’ll go over how to identify poison ivy, what to do if you accidentally have a run-in with it, and how you can avoid poison ivy.
How to identify poison ivy.
There’s an old and oft-repeated adage that is very helpful: if it has three leaves, let it be. That’s because poison ivy has three leaves with three leaflets each. In the South, it tends to grow as a vine (as it does in the Midwest and East.) In the North, West, and Great Lakes region it grows as a low shrub. In the spring it grows yellow-green flowers. It might also have green berries that go off-white in the fall. Basically, a good rule of thumb is that if it’s green and has three leaves, just steer clear.
How do you get poison ivy?
Poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac all give off an oil called urushiol. The oil is what people are allergic to and what causes the itchy rash. Any contact with urushiol can lead to a poison ivy rash, even if you haven’t directly touched the plant (although, of course, that is one way to get it.) Even if you have indirect contact with the oil you can get a rash – the oil can coat itself on objects, such as gardening tools, sports equipment, and even your pet’s fur. And lastly, you can get poison ivy through the air if you burn it because the particles will fly in your face. Yeah, don’t burn poison ivy. Ever.
What are the symptoms of poison ivy?
There are several signs and symptoms that point to poison ivy:
- Crusty skin from where blisters have opened
The tricky thing about poison ivy is that it may take hours, days, or even a week for the rash to appear. Or it could happen very quickly. So, you might have to think back a while to see if you could have come into contact with poison ivy.
How do you treat poison ivy?
If you are 100% sure that you have poison ivy and you don’t have any serious complications or allergic reactions, you can probably treat it at home. Here are some things you can do to treat it yourself, but we’ll also go over when you need to seek medical attention from a professional.
- Rinse the area with lukewarm soapy water. You need to rinse the oil off your skin to prevent other areas of your body from coming into contact with it.
- Wash your clothes.
- Rinse or wash everything that came into contact with the poison ivy (sports equipment, pets, golf clubs, etc.)
- Do not scratch. We know it’s so hard not to, but scratching can lead to infection.
- Don’t mess with the blisters, even if they open. The layer of skin on top can protect the wound underneath it.
- Take short, lukewarm baths with a colloidal oatmeal preparation that you can get at the store. (Or you can add 1 cup of baking soda to your bath as you’re running the water.)
- Think about using calamine lotion or hydrocortisone.
- Use a cool cloth compress to relieve itching. Wet a clean towel or cloth with cold water, wring the water out, and rest it over the area.
If you start noticing the following symptoms and signs, you should seek professional medical attention:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
- The rash is all over the body.
- An excessive amount of rashes or blisters.
- Swelling, especially over the eyes.
- The rash is located on the face or the groin.
- The itch won’t ease no matter what you do.
How to avoid and prevent poison ivy rash.
It’s important to take care to avoid poison ivy, which is not a pleasant experience. Here are some tips to help you spare yourself from the itching.
- Know what it looks like.
- Three leaves.
- Yellowish green flowers in the spring.
- May have green berries that go off-white in fall.
- Grows as a vine in the South.
- Do not touch anything that has come in contact with poison ivy. Remember, the oil can stick around on any object.
- Be extremely careful when removing it from your yard.
- Use plastic bags to pull each plant and replace the bag with each new plant.
- Use white vinegar to destroy any remaining shoots or seedlings.
- Cover your skin and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. You can even use heavy shopping bags or plastic bags for extra protection for your arms and legs.
- Rinse your skin and wash clothes ASAP.
- Never, ever burn poison ivy.
So, that’s a quick crash course in poison ivy. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a medical professional if you feel that the situation is beyond your powers of treatment. But first and foremost, do your best to avoid poison ivy and, if you have to remove any, take special care to protect your skin. Georgia is a great climate for plants and trees and whatnot, some of which are beautiful and lovely…and some of which are not.
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