Poison Ivy

Poison has been the bane of my existence for a few years now. As a child, I would be the only one of my friends who didn’t get poison after a day playing in the woods. Now, I feel like if I even breathe around the stuff, I’ll get it. I am so very careful, I have vast knowledge of all of the forms that the plant takes (as it is seldom uniform in shape and size). Sometimes, you just aren’t careful enough I guess.

My face after a particularly bad spout of poison I obtained from a work site

The purpose of this post is to accomplish 3 things:
1. Identify the many forms of poison (ivy, oak, sumac, & the poisonwood tree)
2. Talk about successful and unsuccessful remedies
3. Call out any myths or wives tales about poison

Identification

You need to know what you’re looking to stay away from before you can actually stay away from it! I’ve attached a link to a PDF of a powerpoint that I made for work. It goes over all forms of poison and how to identify them.
See this PDF HERE.

Some general things to remember:
1. Leaves of 3, leave it be. Poison will ALWAYS have leaves of 3 (oak/ivy), never more, never less (unless they’ve been torn off or eaten by an animal)
2. These plants can grow as either vines or shrubs
3. Poison ivy & oak change colors with the seasons ranging from red to green and even producing berries – which should NOT be eaten
4. Some poison has a mitten shape to it, while others are more rounded, always with a pointed leaf tip
5. Poison sumac generally only grows in wet or swampy areas
6. The poisonwood tree grows in southern FL, especially on the Keys

Treatment

If you do come in contact with any of these plants, there is some hope for you before a reaction occurs.
1. Rinse the area with soap and cool water, or wipe yourself down with an alcohol wipe or alcohol-based hand sanitizer; you need to get the oils off of you so they don’t have time to cause a rash (generally within 15-20 min of contact)
2. Do not use hot water as this can spread the oils
3. If a rash does develop, it is important to do your very best not to itch as itching can burst the rash and spread it to other areas
4. You want to dry the rash, there are a number of ways to do this:
– apply Tecnu, a thick scrub, to open AND dry the rash
– apply calamine lotion to help combat itch and dry the rash
– take a cool bath in epsom salts to combat itching and dry the rash
– rub the rash with alcohol swabs to dry the rash (this will probably burn if your rash is open & weeping)
– salves with plantain are generally good at combating itching
5. Avoid hot showers/hot water/extensive sun exposure while you have your rash as these things can irritate or spread the rash
6. If your rash continues after trying the above methods, in my experience, it is always best to see a doctor and get some steroids, this usually knocks it out in a day or two which can be the best option if it’s available to you

Myths and Wives Tales

  1. First off, know that you can’t spread your rash to others. Poison is spread through your blood stream, so unless they’ve come in contact with the plant and its oils, they won’t get your rash from a weeping sore or skin to skin contact.
  2. I do not recommend eating young poison ivy in order to build a tolerance; I don’t see it as being worth the risk.
  3. DO NOT BURN THIS STUFF! Burning any of the above mentioned plants can allow the oils to enter the air and you can breathe them in, causing irritation to your lungs. I remember reading about a case where two (idiots) were walking around the woods smoking different plants trying to get stoned, ended up smoking some poison ivy and they both died. Just don’t do it.
  4. Poison of any form, especially ivy, is very hard to kill due to the waxy, protective leaves – one of the best methods to get it gone is to get a goat! Goats can eat the poison with no ill effects to themselves; it has also been mentioned to me that drinking milk from a goat who has eaten poison can build your immunity, so there’s something new I’d like to try.
  5. When I first started getting poison, the rash would be so bad (and I was too stubborn to see a doctor) that I would scrape the rash with a knife and then blot bleach on it with a cotton ball. While this DID work, I have been left with scars in certain areas and it burnt like hell. Probably not the best method to use.
  6. You can contract poison in virtually ANY place on your body, both internal and external.
  7. Products do exist that you can apply before you might come in contact with poison that are supposed to prevent a rash; I can not attest to the virility of these products, but in my mind, anything is worth a try.

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