Poison ivy can spread urushiol to skin in all seasons. Have you ever heard the old adage, “leaves of three, let it be”? The sap on the plant’s leaves, called urushiol, often causes an allergic reaction and rash. The stalk of the middle leaflet is much longer than the two side leaflets and the edges can be smooth or coarse toothed. The surface can be glossy or dull.
Poison ivy doesn’t just grow in and near the woods, it can grow in sidewalk cacks, vacant lots and other nooks and crannies throughout cities, beach towns, and suburbs.
Poison ivy is found in every state, except Alaska and Hawaii. You can get a rash even in the winter when the plant has lost all of its leaves.
Spring and summer are the seasons when poison ivy is most dangerous. During spring and summer, poison ivy plants have plenty of sap, urushiol, that produces the rash, blisters and itch.
Urushiol resides inside the plants, so brushing against the plant doesn’t cause a reaction. When the plant is damaged, the urushiol is released. It can stick to pets and garden tools and other objects in the yard. Quick cleansing may prevent rash and itching. Cleansing your skin doesn’t help if the urushiol has penetrated the skin for more than 10 minutes, but cleansing your skin can help it from spreading. If possible, cleanse your skin outdoors with water and generous amounts of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. After these two cleansing steps, you can go inside and take a regular shower with soap and water.
A rash will appear where the urushiol has touched your skin. Rashes, blisters and itching normally disappear in 14 to 20 days without any treatment. Wet compresses or soaking in cool water may give some relief to the itching, but mostly oral antihistamines relieve the itching. Scratched blisters could cause an infection because fingernails carry germs.
Over the counter topical corticosteroids, or hydrocortisones, such as Cortaid and Lanacort, are safe and effective for temporary relief of itching. For severe cases, contacting a Dermatologist as soon as possible is recommended.
You will need to put your washer on the hottest setting when washing clothes exposed to urushiol. Use a full scoop of detergent. Dry cleaning is the most effective way to remove urushiol from clothes.
Air is helpful to healing poison ivy or oak rash, so leave your skin uncovered when sleeping. If a sterile bandage is used, apply it loosely so that oxygen can reach the surface of the skin.
Wear vinyl or cotton gloves when handling or washing items that have touched poison ivy. Urushiol penetrates rubber gloves.
Apply a cortisone crème or ointment (Cortizone 10) for the first few days. Apply calamine lotion or creams containing menthol. Take oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which may also help you sleep better.
Ortho GroundClear Vegetation Killer works well to kill poison ivy permanently. A more natural approach is to apply white vinegar using a large spray bottle. Caution, even the urushiol toxin of a dead poison ivy plant can remain active up to 5 years. Poison ivy roots are bright green in the summer and rust-colored in the winter when the plant becomes dormant, but a rash is still possible.