Know Thy Enemy: Poison Ivy, Oak And Sumac

Spring has sprung and it’s time, once again, to watch where you and your little ones walk or sit while you’re out and about.

Since a run-in with these common plants can cause weeks of suffering it’s good to know what they look like ahead of time so you can beware.

If you do happen to come in contact with the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, or berries of poison oak, ivy or sumac it is likely that a nasty rash will break out on your skin within 8-48 hours.

And the rash can continue to develop in new parts of the body for up to two weeks. Any area that was touched by hands that had the oil on them will be affected. It’s not that it’s spreading, it’s just that there can be a delayed reaction. Not fun!

It’s actually the oil in the plant (called urushiol) that causes all the problems. And it can stay on gardening tools, pet fur, shoes, clothing and sporting gear for years. All you have to do to get yourself in trouble is touch something that still has urushiol on it and you’re cooked.

But not everyone will react the same way. Though 70 to 80% of us will have a reaction, some people are more sensitive than others and the reaction will vary accordingly. The best defense is a good offense so know what these plants look like and make sure your children can recognize them, too. Teach them the mantra, “Leaves of three, let them be.”

If you do come in contact with any of these plants, wash the affected areas immediately with cold water alone and then 10 minutes later with cold water and hand soap for 2-3 minutes. Throw the soap away after washing, as it could re-infect you or infect others. Get the clothing into the washing machine (alone) right away. Take a look at this article from the Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac Information Center for more information on how to recognize the plants and treat the rash.

**The plants in the picture are (left to right): poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “Know Thy Enemy: Poison Ivy, Oak And Sumac”

  1. 7 Summer Health Myths

    […] ~ The rash is caused by an allergic reaction to the oil on the leaves, called urushiol. 70% of the population is allergic and it’s determined by your genes. However, the oil is passed easily from person-to-person and from object-to-person. Check here for more info on the poison plants and treatment suggestions. […]

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