Velocity Care explains all you need to know about this misunderstood plant
If you were to come across poison ivy, would you recognize it? More importantly, would you know what to do if you came in contact with it? Many people believe they know exactly how to handle poison ivy – until their memory and skills are put to the test in an actual encounter.
How to recognize poison ivy
Now that the weather in most places has become warmer, poison ivy is in full bloom. Unfortunately, it is not always as easily recognizable as Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy from the movie “Batman & Robin.” Still, there are telltale signs you can look for.
- Poison ivy is usually a vine, but can sometimes also be a shrub. You typically find it growing along the ground or climbing up trees, fences, walls or rocks.
- In some areas, the vines grow berries. Identifying the plants, and the amount of trouble they cause, differs depending on what area of the country you live in.
- From the East Coast to the Midwest, poison ivy can grow just about anywhere, such as on the roadside, near bodies of water and in your backyard. It is quite resilient and you can find in wet and dry locations.
- Poison ivy is usually one of the first plants to turn color in the fall, and its leaves fall off faster. It is as pretty as it is perturbing.
- You can recognize poison ivy by looking for leaves growing in groups of three. Also, you will notice a set of three leaves going to the left and then, a bit higher, a set of three leaves going to the right. Poison ivy never has thorns or leaves with pointed sides. The leaves can be either red or green. Additionally, there will be a woody stem and some gray bark.
- Western poison ivy is not as plentiful, but still hazardous. The same rules for identifying poison ivy apply.
- In the winter, the bare vines are sometimes hairy, making the plants easier to spot and helping you know what areas to avoid come spring.
- Be careful not to burn poison ivy and breathe in the smoke, such as when the vines are attached to a piece of firewood, as this can be dangerous.
Avoiding the dreaded rash
Oh no! You’ve touched a poison ivy plant. You may have a reaction if you inadvertently touch the plant or handle something else that has come in contact with its dangerous oils, such as a tool or clothing. The best thing to do is stay calm and remember the following steps:
- Use cold water with lots of pressure. It will take about half an hour for the oils in the plant to penetrate the outer layer of your skin and cause a rash. Wash the oils off quickly using a strong stream of water, like from a hose.
- You can also use rubbing alcohol, but don’t use hot water or soap. These can help the oils enter your skin faster.
- Don’t touch your face or other sensitive areas. Your skin is pretty thick, but the oil can easily get into more vulnerable regions such as your eyes, mouth and genitals.
- Avoid scratching. This can spread the oil to other areas. The oil can stay active and cause a rash long after initial contact. For example, if you used a rake or outdoor furniture that touched poison ivy in the fall, you could still get a rash from using those same items the following year.
- Clean anything that comes in contact with the poison ivy. For your clothes, wash them separately using detergent and bleach, if possible. You can clean tools, toys and other objects with rubbing alcohol; just wear rubber gloves.
If you get a poison ivy rash
Try some home remedies. Some people find relief from taking a hot shower or making a paste from baking soda and water and spreading it on the affected area. The gel from an aloe vera plant may also work.
Purchase over-the-counter treatments from the nearest pharmacy. This may work fine for minor contact.
See a doctor immediately for more extensive contact. Sometimes contact with poison ivy will cause blisters or a fever, which require medical attention. A doctor can offer relief that is only available by prescription.
The severity of each person’s reaction to poison ivy is different. You can trust the board-certified, caring physicians at Velocity Care to help with both minor and major exposure to poison ivy. Find the walk-in clinic nearest you so you will be prepared if you or your loved one has a run-in with poison ivy this summer.
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