SPoison ivy is a robust plant, the oils of which can wreak havoc with our skin. I have seen numerous cases recently and want to remind you that there is a lot of it around. You can find it growing along the creek paths, in Boulder Canyon, in Chautauqua Park and in the foothills. The sticky resin found in all parts of the plant is called urushiol oil. It is still actively irritating even when transferred to other surfaces like surrounding dead leaves, pet fur, clothing, backpacks and unwashed skin.
Poison ivy is easier to prevent than to treat. Prevention starts with knowing the appearance of the plant. If you have pets that move in the irritating foliage, wipe them down before touching them. If you are hiking and put your shirt and backpack down, place it on a rock, not on the greenery. And if you are squatting in the woods, be oh so careful about what parts of you touch the leaves!!! And never, never use foliage to wipe your bottom, even if it isn’t a toxic plant, it may still have some resin from poison ivy on it.
The next step is to wash the oil off as soon as possible. Use soap (or rubbing alcohol if no soap is available) and remember to wash your clothing as well. Although most strong soaps will remove the resin, tincture of green soap and a line of products called Tecnu work well to get it off of skin and clothing.
The rash itself is neither contagious nor spread by the liquid in the blisters that form. It shows up at different rates in different places on the body depending on the amount of oil present and skin thickness in the area. That is why it is important to wash the oil off all surfaces that have contacted it.
People vary widely in their reactivity to poison ivy. Treatment varies from none at all to oatmeal baths to antihistamines to steroids and many things in between. Rarely, some extreme reactions can be so severe as to require hospitalization. After removal of all sources of the oil, treatment includes calming down the allergic reaction and preventing secondary infections. For many of us natural antihistaminic substances like quercetin and vitamin C and topical applications of clay and grindelia containing preparations can do the trick. But be careful, I have seen people in an inflamed state react to teatree oil and even the steroid cream itself. If you are using a topical substance that you have never used before, do a small spot test first to make sure it wont make matters worse. If the blisters, swelling and itching are worsening, talk to a professional sooner than later. And of course, if the allergic reaction is getting severe, don’t wait, go get help immediately.
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