Simple tips can help you avoid the consequences of an encounter with poison ivy
Seated in the waiting room at the local urgent care center isn’t where I’d planned to be, yet there I was, waiting patiently and scratching wildly at my throat, upper chest, and a couple spots on my arm.
I’m part of the 85 percent of Americans who have allergic reactions to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. I know what each plant looks like and do everything I can to avoid them while I’m roaming the wilds. Yet, despite my best efforts, I’d come down with a case or two each year and suffer through the miserable consequences.
After treating me for poison ivy/oak/sumac rashes about a dozen times or so over a period of several years, my doctor told me I had a “hyper sensitivity” to some plants, probably more than just poison ivy, oak, and sumac, which are common in Michigan. Juniper, I’ve found, also irritates my skin – and heaven knows what else does.
My family and friends do a lot of trimming of trails and shooting lanes on the property we deer hunt. We like to take care of these chores over the summer so everything is ready to go by hunting season. Trimming makes me very leery of poisonous plants. Whenever I’m running a weed whip I’m sure to wear pants, boots, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, a hat and safety glasses – even if it’s 85 degrees and humid. I usually tie a bandanna over my face and neck, too, to keep all the trimmings off my skin.
Last week, I trimmed for about an hour and didn’t have a bandanna to cover my face and throat. That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was not washing thoroughly enough once I got home.
Prior to the recent outbreak, I’d been poison ivy-free for the past three years. That’s right, I finally figured out a way to avoid the dastardly rash, but it takes a little persistence.
The plants themselves cause you no harm. It’s an oil called urushiol that covers the leaves and stem of the plants that causes the problem.
When the oil makes contact with your skin it sticks to you and triggers an allergic response from your body, which results in a rash, blisters, seepage of fluid, and terrible itching. Another problem with this oil is that it sticks to your skin and clothes and can be transferred to other areas. If you happen to touch the oil with your hand or a glove, then wipe the sweat from your face, you’ve just spread the oil to your face.
The key to avoiding these irritating symptoms is to remove the oil from your skin as soon as possible.
Anytime I come in from the outdoors now I take a few extra minutes to scrub down any skin that may have been exposed to urushiol. Several different soaps will work. Some people swear by dish soap – especially the ones that attack grease. Rubbing alcohol is also reported to be good at removing the oil.
I’ve found that a product called Tecnu works wonders for me. I wash down any exposed skin twice, and have experienced fantastic results. It’s available at most pharmacies.
Last week, though, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about so I came home and took a shower, but I didn’t wash down with Tecnu. Hence my trip to urgent care.
The rash from poison ivy usually appears within 24 to 72 hours. Instructions on the Tecnu bottle say that as long as you wash within two to eight hours of exposure to poisonous plants, you’ll remove the irritating oil before a reaction occurs. I now have two bottles, one in the bathroom and one I carry in my SUV.
When I remember to use it, everything seems to work out well.