Poison ivy is one of those pesky plants anyone wouldn’t want around. It is a potential health hazard that may critically affect anyone who has the misfortune of getting near it or parts of it. Most people already know why.
Poison ivy is famous for causing allergic reactions often characterized by itchy, painful rashes. It is a plant belonging to the family Anacardiaceae. Those under the family, especially those in the Rhus or Toxicodendron genus like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac produce a skin irritant or oily organic compound known as urushiol. It is in the leaves, stems, and even in the sap of roots and vines.
Urushiol could be bad news to anyone allergic to it.
How Urushiol Gets to Us
Coming in contact with poison ivy does not automatically affect a person. However, a lot of people are indeed allergic to urushiol. Systemic poison ivy is the extreme allergic reaction to urushiol.
Even by simply burning the leaves, stems, and roots of poison ivy, sumac or oak can lead to an allergy attack mainly due to inhaling the fumes. Unfortunately, while one may be safe from any reaction, many others living someplace else are not. Burning poison ivy (or oak or sumac) carries the oils through the air and reach others from miles away.
Such prevention may be done by simply staying away from poison ivy (or sumac or oak). But the poison can still catch us unawares. A piece of clothing may have brushed against it in the past. Pets may have romped around a place where the plant was. Pets are normally immune to urushiol, but people often are not.
This is especially challenging in locations like North America where poison ivy is abundant.
The Allergic Reactions
What are the Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash? Here is a list of reactions to watch out for:
- Difficulty breathing
A rash may look like a straight line as a result of poison ivy brushing against the skin. It usually develops in 12 to 72 hours and lasts two to three weeks.
One common misconception and another poison ivy myth is that the rashes simply spread. They don’t. It is either due to delayed reactions or the fingers transfer the oil resin to other body parts. And no, blister fluid doesn’t spread the rashes either.
Swelling is a serious reaction especially if it’s the face that swells and the eyes swell shut. It can result to the difficulty in breathing. Rashes can develop along the lining of the throat and lungs, which start to inflame due to the toxin, affecting the airways and making breathing very difficult. The oils can also travel through the bloodstream.
How to Clean Skin and Gears Exposed to Urushiol
Know what to do!
Prevention before anything develops:
Wash the skin right away, even if one is not sensitive to urushiol. Allergies do develop in people at times. Also, this is to prevent the transfer of urushiol to other people. Cleanse the skin with soap (dishwashing soap is okay) and cool water within five to 10 minutes. Or use rubbing alcohol instead. Rinse often.
Use hand cleaners. Clean particularly under the fingernails because fingers can spread the offending substance.
Certain creams/lotions can help to prevent poison ivy rash. There are special products like Tecnu and Zanfel for removing urushiol.
- Zanfel relieves pain and itching in minutes. It’s safe for children and nursing or pregnant women. Zanfel is known to remove urushiol, the oil compound responsible for the reaction, from your skin, instead of just treating poison ivy rash and other symptoms. It can be applied anytime after exposure including the face and genitals. As long as it is applied to the external area of the body only. Systemic reactions cannot be treated with Zanfel. You have to seek medical attention immediately as prescription steroids are usually required to treat systemic, blood-based reactions.
- Tecnu Original is a liquid skin cleanser. Apply directly to skin or gear and rub around and rinse with cool water or wipe off with a cloth. It’s best to use it within 8 hours after coming in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac to remove the oil toxin before the rash begins. Tecnu Original can also be used to remove urushiol from your pets, clothes, tools, and gears. If you love the great outdoors or working on forestry, this cleanser is highly recommended to remove the urushiol and prevent the rash from developing and spreading.
- Tecnu Extreme is a mild scrub. It has micro-fine scrubbing beads to rid of urushiol from the skin. Use within eight hours after exposure.
- Saturate clothing or wipe gears well with Tecnu to decontaminate.
Make sure to clean gears and wash clothing exposed to poison ivy. Clean with soap and hot water the pieces of clothing and objects like shoes that may have come in contact with poison ivy, to prevent exposure.
Don’t forget to wash your pets as well with water and mild soap.
Treatment of mild cases at home:
- Find soothing lotions to rub on affected areas.
- If the face is affected, a gentle cleanser together with cool water should help.
- Use Tecnu Extreme immediately at the very first sign of a reaction.
- Take cool baths because heat worsens the effects of a rash.
- Take an oatmeal bath or a baking soda bath — either way calms the skin.
- Can’t bathe? Clean the affected skin with cool cloth.
- Keep affected areas clean and dry. Use topical products.
- Dry up infected skin with the inside of a banana peel.
- Create an oatmeal paste or potato paste to rub on affected areas.
- Both vodka and vinegar are also good for first aid.
- Soak cloth in coffee and apply on infected areas.
Treatment of severe/widespread cases:
Rashes on the face or the genitals are already severe cases, Get immediate prescription medication to avoid the worse side effects.
There are many ways to prevent the effects of poison ivy. All one has to do is to know them, keep calm and don’t panic. Oh, and control one’s self from scratching — now THAT is challenging.