Pomerene Hospital Blog
"Leaves of Three, Let it Be"
The flower beds are alive with color, butterflies, and bees, and weeding is a daily task. Overgrown fence rows are being freed of tangled greenery. Wood is chopped and stacked in preparation for another round of cold Ohio winter weather. Each of these summertime tasks, which get us out into the fresh sunshine, hold its own danger. Ohio may be short on venomous snakes and insects, but there is a poison that lurks among the greenery, one of which we must all beware.
Poison ivy plants are commonly found among the elements of beauty in our landscape.In fact, all year round, this plant has been known to cause misery.As nefarious as poison ivy might seem, there are many myths surrounding the “leaves of three” that should be dispelled to help prevent, or relieve, the itchy red rash it causes.
The rash that shows about 12-48 hours after touching the poison ivy plant is actually a “contact dermatitis”, much similar to a rash that develops with any allergen. The allergic reaction is a result of skin contact with the sap of the plant, urushiol, which is an oily substance with allergic properties. Any place the oil encounters skin, an allergic reaction, in the form of an itchy rash, develops.
Prevention is the best treatment for poison ivy rashes. Avoid areas that poison ivy plants grow: in flower beds, along fence rows, against trees. If avoidance isn’t possible, the next action is to wash quickly and thoroughly, within 30 minutes, if possible. Showering with plenty of warm water and soap (dish soap is an excellent grease cutter!) will remove the oil from the skin.Reducing exposure limits the extent of the rash. It is also a must to clean well under fingernails and any clothing, shoes, and tools to which the oil may have transferred. The oils may linger on them, spreading the rash long after exposure to the plant.
Alas, sometimes after the best of efforts, a poison ivy rash develops anyway. There are some things to know about this, too. Ultimately, if you did nothing to the rash, it would dissipate in about 2-3 weeks. Frequently, that is too long to suffer. Cool compresses, or even ice, oatmeal baths, and hydrocortisone cream, can relieve the itching. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine and may also help alleviate the itch of the reaction. Poison ivy rash on the arms, legs, and torso are more annoying than worrisome.If the rash is on the face or groin, though, frequently a healthcare provider will prescribe an oral steroid to prevent further problems. Steroid injections are not recommended.If a problem with the medication occurs, the oral pill can be stopped. Once the medication is injected in to the body, there is no reversing it.
It is important to understand that any fluid that drains from the area cannot spread the rash. That is simply the body’s immune system trying to be in repair mode. Oils left on the skin, or repeated contact, though, can cause additional reactions. Keep the area clean, avoid scratching to prevent infection, and use soothing methods to treat symptoms.
A couple other bits of trivia: Ohio has only poison ivy. Poison sumac is found in the southern United States, and poison oak is found in western United States. Whichever you’ve been in contact with, though, the rash will be very similar. As it is an allergic reaction, not a rash specific to each plant, we could never tell the cause by looking at the rash.