WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT POISON IVY?
By Chris Williams on August 2, 2017.
When we are treating around the outside foundations of homes as part of our Preventative Maintenance Program, it’s not unusual to find poison ivy in our customer’s yards, sometimes growing right up against the house or even hiding in among the ground cover plantings.
POISON IVY IS AN ADAPTABLE MIMIC
Few people seem to recognize poison ivy but that’s not too surprising, considering that it has several leaf shapes and forms and does hide itself in its environment. Those who have had a close encounter with the toxic plant are much more likely to remember what it looks like!
You’ve no doubt heard this common warning for poison ivy, “Leaves of three, let it be!” That’s your basic description of poison ivy, but the 3 leaves can vary in shape. They may be entire or slightly notched, they usually are shiny green, and often turn red in the fall.
Poison ivy is extremely adaptable, growing in virtually any environment: forests, fields, roadsides, along streams, and in our gardens and backyards. The habit of poison ivy growth varies depending on the plant’s age and location. Young plants can blend right in with grass, weeds, or garden plants. Mature poison ivy can be a thick, hairy, ropelike vine, often seen anchored to a tree trunk. There may be light-colored berries.
YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO TOUCH THE PLANT
Poison ivy releases an irritating oil, urushiol, when the leaves or other plant parts are touched, bruised, or even burned (don’t burn the plant to get rid of it, the smoke causes lung irritation). You can get a reaction to poison ivy even if you never touched the plant. Touching tools, shoes, pants legs, or even a pet that has had contact with poison ivy can spread the oil. So, don’t think you’re safe if the plant touched only your gloves or shoes, you can still contact the oils when you remove clothing.
When the oil gets on the skin, it causes an itchy, red rash, often with red bumps, blisters, or swelling. The rash may take a few days to appear and can last 1 to 3 weeks. Even a small patch of poison ivy irritation is uncomfortable but if a large area or a sensitive area of skin is affected, the victim can be almost incapacitated.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU THINK YOU’VE TOUCHED POISON IVY?
- Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and warm water, rinsing frequently. Until then, avoid touching your face or any other parts of your body or clothing if the contact was on your hands.
- If contact was on shoes, clothing, or gardening gloves, carefully remove them, touching them as little as possible. Wash them ASAP with soap and hot water, separately from other clothing. Wash affected tools with a dilute bleach solution while wearing rubber gloves. Wash up thoroughly after touching the affected item.
- Wash pets that have contacted poison ivy to remove the oils from their fur.
- Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, and cool compresses may help with itching. If these don’t help, antihistamines may be useful or a health care provider may prescribe steroids.
- If the rash affects the face, lips, eyes, or genitals, or if the rash shows signs of infection, contact a medical provider. If the individual has severe swelling or trouble breathing, or has had a severe poison ivy reaction in the past, seek emergency treatment.