Avoiding Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
When you are spending time outside please take time to prepare yourself to deal with poisonous plants and the reactions your body can have after coming in contact with them. When you are out in wooded areas the three most common poisonous plants are Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. What makes these plants poisonous is a type of oil they contain within them called Urushiol. When you come in contact with this oil it can induce an itchy rash that later forms blisters and is extremely contagious if it is not washed properly.
This type of rash is not fun, and it is no joke. Therefore you first must know how to identify these plants; then you have to take steps to avoid them. Even after doing this there is still the risk of coming in contact with them unknowingly. The oil that these plants contain, once dispensed onto an object, even after the plant has been destroyed, can remain contagious for years. The oil can be rubbed off on a passing animal and be spread to you. If you mistakenly burn these plants the oil can actually be transmitted via smoke, and you can get it internally! You can get this oil on your clothes or jacket or shoes, and the next time you go to put these objects on by touching the contaminated area it is then spread onto your skin causing a reaction. So after learning how to identify these plants and avoid them you then must learn how to deal with a reaction to them and how to properly handle objects that have come into contact with the plants. Reading this article is the first step to prevention of poisonous plant contact and reaction.
Being able to identify Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac is the first step towards protecting yourself from them. The problem with this is that the plant’s arent defined consistently and often are varying in shape and size. Poison Ivy is often found growing around freshwater bodies in the East and Midwest of the U.S. Poison Ivy can grow as a shrub, a vine, or an irregular bush sprawling across the ground. Sometimes the stem appears to be woody while other times it looks fresh, green and new. The leaves are usually bright green in the early summer, darker green in the late summer, and reddish in the fall. The leaves are normally composed of three leaflets but can sometimes contain up to nine.
They develop greenish-yellow flowers and whitish colored berries. Poison Oak is found in the Eastern and Western U.S. regions. In the Eastern part of the U.S. Poison Oak has a shrub-like appearance whereas along the Pacific Coastline in the Western U.S. it can grow in large clumps or vines up to thirty feet long. The leaves of poison oak are normally fashioned in leaflets of three shaped like Oak Tree leaves. This plant develops small clusters of yellowish berries on it. Poison Sumac normally grows in marshy or swampy areas and is most common in the Southeast U.S. Its appearance is shrub-like, and it can grow up to fifteen feet tall. The leaves on Poison Sumac have smooth edges and the number of leaflets can vary from seven to as many as thirteen. Poison Sumac produces berries that can appear yellowish but are usually off-white in color.
Unfortunately, I am unable to provide you with any pictures of these plants, but the basic descriptions will help. If you do a search under their specific names there are hundreds of websites that can provide you with excellent photographs of these plants. The extra research will be beneficial to you in preventing contact with Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac. Hopefully, the information I have provided here on the identification of these hazardous plants will be useful.
There are further steps you can take to avoid contact with the oil that Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac produce. First, try to avoid walking through areas where a bare path is not existent or well defined. If you have a dog with you keep it on a leash so that you can monitor the areas that the dog comes in contact with. Always wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck your pants into your socks. Wear shoes or boots that do not allow any bare skin to be exposed. When picking or handling outdoor plants always wear rubber gloves and wash them thoroughly with soap and water before you take them off, or better yet dispose of them immediately if possible. Always take care when you take your clothes off after a day outdoors and be careful not to touch the exposed side of your clothes with your skin. Wash the clothing well immediately after use. If you do these things you will greatly reduce the risk of being exposed to these nasty plants.
Lets say you took all of the proper precautions and you were still exposed to Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac, what do you do now? It only takes a few minutes for the poisonous oil to penetrate your skin, so you have to act fast. The first thing you should do is immediately stop what you are doing. Then cleanse the exposed area with rubbing alcohol, following this with a rinse of cool water. Do not go indoors or to your camp area before doing these two things, you don’t want to spread it around. After you have done this go take a shower and clean off with soap and water. Don’t clean the affected area with soap before you use the rubbing alcohol and cool water because the oil can spread into the soap and then be spread to the rest of your body. Wash under your fingernails the same way well with a disposable toothbrush so that none of the oil can linger there causing it to spread; then throw the toothbrush away immediately.
If you didn’t have the chance to take care of the exposure immediately you will most likely develop the miserable rash of Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac. The rash can start to appear in as soon as twelve hours or as late as ten days depending on your body. The blisters that come with the rash do not contain the oil and therefore the oozing is not contagious and will not cause further spread. Be careful not to scratch this rash though, because your fingernails are germy and can help an infection to occur. The rash usually goes away within fourteen to twenty days without treatment; however, the itch is usually pretty bad. To relieve the itch Calamine Lotion works pretty well and it helps dry up the blisters. Other things such as baking soda, oatmeal bath or soap, and kaolin can also help dry up the blisters. Benedryl can also help lessen the itching. Unfortunately, if you were exposed to Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac you will most likely have to deal with the rash. So try to avoid these plants at all costs.
Now that you know how to identify, avoid, and properly deal with Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac you are ready for the “Great Outdoors”. Remember the basics and you are in good shape! I hope you have a wonderful time in all you do, and I hope I have helped to make outdoor life easier for you, your friends, and family. Good luck!