I just saw my first poison ivy of the year. Fortunately, I saw it before I touched it. I and many other people are sensitive to poison ivy because of a chemical called urushiol present in the sap of the plant. Many very fortunate people do not have any reaction. I remember very vividly falling into poison ivy when I was in the fourth grade; I missed over a week of school, my eyes swelled shut, and I couldn’t eat because my face was so swollen I couldn’t get my teeth together. Needless to say, I am always very cautious of poison ivy.
Poison ivy can be found almost anywhere. It usually grows along fencerows, roadside areas, and along the edge of wooded areas. It can also be found around the home in shrubbery, flowerbeds, and along lot boundaries. The best way to identify Poison ivy (Rhus radicans) is by its compound leaf of three leaflets that are two to four inches long, dull or glossy green with pointed tips. Poison ivy can be a low growing shrub or a vine that climbs to the top of the tallest tree.
If you should come in contact with poison ivy, you can use rubbing alcohol on the area immediately. Once the urushiol comes in contact with your skin, it penetrates very quickly. Do not return to the area where you were exposed until the next day. Rubbing alcohol removes the protective barrier on your skin. Also, NEVER BURN poison ivy plants. The smoke from burning the plants contains particles that can cause serious injury to eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.
After using the rubbing alcohol, wash the exposed area with water. As soon as possible, shower with warm water and soap or a special wash like Zanfel. All clothing should be washed separately in hot water. Shoes should be wiped with rubbing alcohol and water. Wear disposable gloves while cleaning your shoes.
The rash usually occurs within 12-48 hours after contact. Oozing blisters are not contagious. They do not contain urushiol so the fluid cannot spread the rash to other parts of the body. However, do not rub or scratch the blisters or rash. Infection could occur from your hands or fingernails.
You will only have a rash where urushiol touched your body. The rash and blisters may appear at different times because the poison may absorb into your skin at different rates, depending on what part of the body was exposed.
If you do nothing, the rash, blisters and itch will go away in 2-3 weeks. If you want to treat the rash, try putting wet compresses or soak in cool water. Several over-the-counter products may also help dry oozing blisters: aluminum acetate, baking soda, Aveeno, aluminum hydroxide gel, calamine, kaolin, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, and zinc oxide. Follow the directions on the label.
If you have a severe reaction, be sure to see a doctor.
More information about poison ivy, gardening and related subjects is available online at hort.purdue,edu/ext/garden_pubs.html. See publications AEX 192.1.37 and HYUG-1015-96.
The Purdue University cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.