Poison Ivy Allergic Reaction:
Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis is the medical name given to allergic rashes produced by the oil urushiol, which is contained in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Symptoms of the rash include itching, inflammation, oozing, and in severe cases, a burning sensation. It takes 1-3 days for the rash to first appear and it will persist for typically one to two weeks. At least 25% of people have very strong response resulting in severe symptoms. Since the skin reaction is an allergic one, people may develop progressively stronger reactions after repeated exposures. The rash is not contagious once the oil is thoroughly washed from the skin. Urushiol does not always spread once it has bonded with the skin, and cannot be transferred once the oil has been washed away.
Identifying Poison Ivy can be difficult as the appearance of it can vary greatly, even within a single area. Identification is often made difficult by leaf damage, the plant’s leafless condition during winter, and unusual growth forms due to environmental or genetic factors.
The following four characteristics are sufficient to identify poison ivy in most situations:
- clusters of three leaflets, (Note: other, harmless plants can have similar leaves.)
- alternate leaf arrangement,
- lack of thorns, and
- each group of three leaflets grows on its own stem, which connects to the main vine.
The leaves also tend to have a glossy look to them.
Various rhymes describe the characteristic appearance of poison ivy:
- “Leaflets three; let it be”
- “Hairy vine, no friend of mine. “
- “Berries white, run in fright” and “Berries white, danger in sight. “
Exposure to urushiol oil can be through direct contact with the plant, or by secondary contact with a contaminated object. The oil adheres to clothing, shoes, back packs, etc. The first step in dealing with poison ivy is in managing your exposure. Clothing that is lower to the ground is more likely to be exposed. It should be removed and separated as soon as possible so as to limit transfer of the oil to everything else. Shoes, socks and pants should be placed in one garbage bag and the rest of your clothing and gear in another. All items should remain bagged until you have a chance to clean it thoroughly with soap and water. (With rubber gloves!).
After your clothes have been bagged, it’s time to hit the showers. You need to wash exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible after exposure. Soap or detergent is necessary, as urushiol is an oil. If you do not have access to running water, rubbing alcohol can also help to remove Urushiol oil from the skin.
These steps may seem excessive, but are advisable if you know your reaction will be severe. If you don’t know how you will react, then think of it as 15 minutes of post race ceremony that could save yourself a few weeks of itching. Please keep in mind, that the picture above is of a mild reaction.
Below is a video that explains how you receive poison ivy and how to treat it.