I can vividly recall the misery of my many bouts with poison ivy growing up. The puffy, blistered skin, the ceaseless itching and discomfort, the oozing yellow pus weeping from my rash-infested flesh – all caused by a simple three-leafed plant.
Knowing I'm one of the unfortunate souls allergic to poison ivy, I have learned to avoid the plants as much as possible. There's a certain irony, however, that of all my outdoor experiences, my worst encounters with the plant have come from relatively domesticated locations.
To date, my worst outbreaks were acquired as a result of weed whacking around my father's business office, chasing a soccer ball behind a goal at summer camp, and most recently, cutting up some downed trees in my yard. It seems the plants thrive most in areas where tame and wild meet.
Each experience required a visit to the doctor, accompanied by several unbearably itchy days and sleepless nights. But much like most mild dangers of spending time outdoors, these run-ins could have been prevented.
Obviously, the best way to protect yourself from poison ivy is to know how to properly identify the plants and avoid them completely. "Shiny and leaves of three, let it be" is an old Boy Scout phrase worth remembering. But as a rule of thumb, simply wearing long pants and watching where you walk will prevent plant-to-skin contact, which actually causes the rash.
It's important to note that plant oil residue can be left behind on boots, clothing or even pets after poison ivy brushes against them, so always wash your hands thoroughly after handling these items. In fact, when I know I've been exposed to poison ivy, my clothes go directly into the washing machine and I head to the shower immediately upon returning home.
When in the field, rinsing off in a creek or pond may help remove plant oils, but warm soapy water is most effective whenever possible. Try not to touch your face or other tender areas of the body after exposure, since oils can be easily transferred from one location to another.
If an outbreak does occur, there are countless home remedies to help ease the itch, but I've found that making a simple paste with baking soda and water, dabbing it on the affected area and allowing it to dry soothes the irritation immensely.
It's pretty much impossible, but try not to scratch the rash, as opening up the wound can lead to infection. Keep it moist using over-the-counter creams and ointments, but if inflammation does not subside in a few days, or if it becomes unbearable, it may be worth a visit to the doctor.
Poison ivy is just a minor peril that comes with the territory of the outdoor experience. Don't let it keep you from pursuing what you love; just watch your step and wash away the worries to avert the agonizing itch.
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