Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac are plants generally found in the wilderness. Poison ivy is more common east of the Rocky Mountains and grows in clusters on vines and shrubs. The leaves of these plants contain a compound or oily secretion called urushiol. Urshiol sticks to anything it comes in contact with and causes a reaction when it comes in contact with your skin and mucous membranes. The skin rash or reaction can spread rather easily and is also referred to as contact dermatitis.
If you are allergic to poison ivy (and more than half the people in the country are), you will soon develop a painful rash after coming in contact with the urushiol oil from the plants. The appearance of poison ivy can vary from region to region. It is therefore very important to educate yourself and your children on how to identify poison ivy so that it can be avoided and the rash prevented.
The symptoms of a poison ivy rash depend on the amount of exposure to the plant and the urushiol oil. If your immunity is strong, the reaction may not be as strong either. Common symptoms of poison ivy include:
The main cause of poison ivy rash is the oily resin called urushiol secreted by plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Urushiol is found in all parts of the plant and even in plants that are dead. It is very sticky and does not dry easily, thereby increasing the risks of it being spread. You can contract poison ivy rash through direct contact with the leaves, roots, and berries of the plant. The poison can even be spread via clothes or other objects that have touched the plant. Urushiol can survive for years in a dry environment. What this means is that if your clothes are contaminated with the resin, they can cause a rash even years later if you wear them again. If your pet has walked through a cluster of poison ivy plants, he can carry the urushiol oil on his fur and the rash could affect anyone who then comes in contact with the dog. Surprisingly, burning the poison ivy plant can also spread the allergen. The inhaled smoke from burning poison ivy plants can affect the mucus membranes in the eyes and nose and cause a strong reaction as well.
For any nature or wildlife enthusiast, who is just getting acquainted with the outdoors, it may be a good idea to first learn how to identify vegetation like poison ivy and poison oak, so as to avoid any contact with it.
The actual poison ivy rash is not contagious. Unlike the rashes caused by chicken pox or measles, poison ivy blisters cannot spread the infection. Coming in contact with another person who has a poison ivy rash cannot spread the rash either, unless there are still traces of urushiol left on the skin or clothes.
According to the FDA, as soon as you realize that you have been exposed to the poison ivy plant, it is imperative that you clean the affected area with rubbing alcohol. Then wash the skin with plain water. Do not use soap as this can merely spread the urushiol resin around the body and make the rash worse. Later you can take a shower and wash the entire body with water and a mild soap. To ensure that the infection does not spread, wipe everything that you have been wearing including clothes and shoes with rubbing alcohol. The sooner you take action, the less severe your reaction to the poison ivy. In case rubbing alcohol is not available, there are commercially available products such as wipes and scrubs specially created to treat poison ivy that can be used instead. In the absence of access to medical facilities, home remedies can come in quite handy in the treatment of a poison ivy rash:
Home remedies and treatment for poison ivy are generally targeted towards providing relief for symptoms such as itching and pain. Unfortunately the rash and blisters cannot be eliminated completely and the infection has to run its normal course. If you scratch the blisters you could also cause a secondary infection to set in that may be more painful than the poison ivy rash itself. Rubbing the affected areas with banana peel can offer quick relief from itching and pain if done regularly. Burdock root tea is an effective herbal treatment for poison ivy rash. This tea can be drunk or even applied to the rash to dry it up.
There is no specific diet for poison ivy but there are certain foods that can help reduce the rash that occurs. Foods high in vitamin C, zinc, calcium, and beta-carotene can boost the immune system, reduce the skin inflammation and prevent the spreading of the rash. Zinc especially helps repair skin tissue and promotes healthy skin post the infection.
The simplest way to prevent a poison ivy reaction and rash is to avoid contact with the plant. Educate yourself about what poison ivy looks like in your area and how it may change in appearance from season to season. If you are walking through the wilderness where poison ivy is found make sure you wear clothes that cover your skin such as long sleeved shirts and even gloves. Before you walk in any infected areas, you can apply a product or lotion such as Ivy block that prevents the urushiol from contacting the skin directly.