Eight Poison Ivy Tips and Prevention
There is an oil produced by the poison ivy plant called urushiol. When this oil comes into contact with human skin, it acts as an irritant to most people. This irritant forms a rash marked by tiny red blisters.
These blisters contain small amounts of urushiol. When scratched or broken open, these blisters spread the oil to other portions of the body. This makes the spread of poison ivy potentially fast and extensive.
When enough “poison ivy” or urushiol gets onto the human body, it can enter the bloodstream. This means that the rash will break out all over the body, even on the tips of fingers and toes. At this point, the sufferer should consult a doctor and have a corticosteroid prescribed to help the system fight off the rash.
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, the three plants which contain urushiol, are like anything act like any allergy-causing material. The first time you are exposed to it, the body has no outward reaction. The body’s immune system does build up an immune response to the urushiol. When the body is exposed to poison ivy a second time, most people’s immune systems begin to react with the allergen.
The best way to avoid an outbreak of poison ivy rash is to avoid the plant altogether. To that end, here are the best ways to avoid poison ivy and other urushiol producing plants.
1. Leaves of Three, Let It Be
This is the rule of thumb we were all taught as children. When you see a plant with three leafed sprouts, avoid it. The leaves are shaped like almonds. The typical poison ivy has three green leaves on each sprout, with reddish-colored stems leading to the leaves. It has gray-white berries which come in clusters.
2. Layer Up
When you are walking in nature where you think poison ivy might be, where long pants and long sleeved shirts. This might be difficult or uncomfortable during the warm weather months during which you are likely to be hiking. At the very least, try to wear pants instead of shorts out in the wilderness. Your legs are much more likely to rub against plants than your arms.
Remember to avoid touching strange plants, which is a good idea most of the time. Try to avoid contact with any plants that you can. Even if your clothes touch a plant and trace amounts of the oil gets on the clothes, this oil can later be transferred to your skin. If you are highly allergic to poison ivy, this might be enough to infect you.
3. Wash Yourself
If you believe you have been exposed to poison ivy, wash your hands and other affected parts as soon as possible. Some people think it takes no more than ten minutes for urushiol to soak through the skin. Others think it takes up to two hours. In the latter case, if you wash yourself thoroughly after exposure, you have a good chance to avoid irritation.
I would shower immediately after a return from hiking, if you have any indication you were in proximity to poison ivy.
4. Wash Your Clothes
When you return from a nature walk, wash your clothes before wearing them again. I would suggest washing the strings in your shoes, too. There are reports of shoestrings carrying the resin for months, affecting a person with the rash months after being directly exposed to the plant.
5. Sun-Bake Your Clothes
If you don’t have the facilities or the patience to wash your clothes and shoes, then place them in the sun. Direct exposure to sunlight should evaporate the oil resin on your clothes. I would suggest being thorough and washing your clothes. If you don’t want to be washing your shoes, shoestrings or ball caps all the time, place in the sunlight after a hike.
6. Know Your Habitat
Know where poison ivy is most likely to be found. This helps you avoid places where contact is most likely. Poison ivy type plants tend to grow in the shadow of trees away from direct sunlight and in moist places below 5,000 feet high. If you go for a hike, pay special attention to moist places out of sunlight.
7. Balm Up
There are preventive lotions you can apply to your skin before hiking into the woods. These lotions help protect your naked skin from the poison ivy resin. Once again, prevention is the best cure.
8. Avoid It on General Principle
Somewhere under 25% of the population is not allergic to poison ivy. But people who were immune to the affects of poison ivy in their youth are known to develop an
allergy in their adult life. Sometimes, people are known to develop an allergy as late as 40 years old.
People tend to develop an allergy to urushiol the more they are exposed to it. So it is best to avoid contact with poison ivy whether you are allergic to it or not.