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That Springtime Itch

Spring has officially arrived and graced us with some beautiful weather over the past few weeks, leading to more and more park visitors through the week. While out and about in the park there is plenty to see with a lot of our plants coming into bloom, but there are also some plants to be weary of.

The most infamous of them is Poison Ivy. You can find this plant growing up the side of trees or along the side of trails throughout the spring, summer, and fall season. Poison Ivy causes irritating and itchy rashes to appear on your body where you have made contact with the oils produced by the plant. One of the most helpful things you can do to prevent yourself from getting these rashes is to know what the plant looks like and avoiding it. Below is a picture of the plant from the and a description.

What Poison Ivy Looks Like

Based on the picture you can see that each leaf has 3 small leaflets. The outside leaves appear to stick out. It grows as a vine in the East, Midwest, and South of the United States. In spring, it grows yellow-green flowers and it may have green berries that turn off-white in early fall.

How to Avoid Poison Ivy

If you know that you are planning to be in a wooded or dense area you should make sure to wear appropriate clothing that can cover exposed areas or use a skin-care product called an ivy block barrier. This helps prevent the skin from absorbing the oil (urushiol), which causes the rash. These products usually contain bentoquatam. You can buy these products without a prescription. Be sure to apply the block before going outdoors.

If you find yourself in an area with Poison Ivy, it helps to remember that all parts of these plants contain urushiol. The leaves, the stems, and even the roots contain urushiol. Touching any part of the plant can cause an allergic reaction. You can have an allergic reaction from touching gardening tools, sporting equipment, and even a pet’s fur if it has come in contact with urushiol. Burning these plants releases urushiol into the air and you can have an allergic reaction if airborne particles land on your skin.

What Happens If You're Exposed

If you are unlucky enough to come into contact with poison ivy and get a rash there are some easy steps you can take to help combat the irritation and itchiness as well as dry up the spots. Below are 9 possible steps you can take.

  1. Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.
  2. Wash your clothing. Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.
  3. Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.
  4. Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
  5. Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
  6. Take short, lukewarm baths. To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.
  7. Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion may also help.
  8. Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.
  9. Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply an antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.

By following these precautions and remedies you can prevent Poison Ivy from putting a damper on your springtime fun!

Photo and video from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Jared Smith is is an Interpretive Ranger at The Parklands. He grew up on the western side of the bluegrass state in Hopkins County in the small town of Manitou situated amongst the trees and fields nearby. Jared found himself in Louisville after transferring to the University of Louisville, where he received a degree in Elementary Education. Upon graduation he chose to combine his love of the outdoors with education, to teach informally about nature and conservation efforts to help preserve it. When not  at the park Jared enjoys getting to spend time out exploring, whether that means venturing off for a hike or bike ride. Come visit him in the PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation during open hours.  

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