Poison ivy: What you need to know

Warmer weather brings with it beautiful shades of green as plants and trees begin to leaf out. But some of those leaves don’t play well with others. It’s likely you’ve heard the rhyme, “Leaves of three, let it be.”

As its name would imply, poison ivy is not pleasant to experience, and it can hide itself well among other ground cover plants and bushes. If you’ve had a recent brush with poison ivy (leaves, stem or roots), you may see some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Raised red rash
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Bumps or blisters
  • Itchiness

In severe cases of poison ivy, a person can experience difficulty breathing or extreme swelling around the eyes. The urushiol oil in poison ivy is responsible for these symptoms, as about 85 percent of people have an allergic reaction to the oil.

Symptoms may appear within hours or may take days to appear, depending on your body’s sensitivity and how much urushiol oil came into contact with your skin. Most cases of poison ivy go away on their own within a couple weeks and rarely require medical care.

Over-the-counter creams and lotions or oatmeal baths can ease the itching and swelling associated with poison ivy. However, steer clear of topical preparations of antihistamines, like Benadryl, that can make the rash worse.

If the rash doesn’t improve after a week to 10 days, a doctor may be able to prescribe a stronger steroid ointment. If you need help finding a doctor, you can call 1-844-Prisma Health-DOCS (447-3627). Try not to scratch the rash, as this can cause infection to develop. Signs of infection include swelling, pain, pus around the rash or warmth to the touch.

To stop poison ivy before it starts, be on the lookout for its telltale three-leaved vines around your yard or property, and remove them while wearing thick gloves, boots, long sleeves and pants. Don’t burn poison ivy, as the smoke can contain urushiol oil and, if inhaled, this can cause a reaction in the respiratory passages.

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