A Red Fruit Growing On A Thorny Flower Bush How to Recognize Poison Ivy – The Plant and the Rash

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How to Recognize Poison Ivy – The Plant and the Rash

If you live in North America and have a business beyond your front porch, you are at risk of poisoning. Thankfully, by learning to identify these dangerous plants, you can limit your chances of developing a nasty rash.

Staying away from parks and forests does not guarantee your safety. Although poison ivy grows mostly in wooded areas in the United States and Canada, it also hides in backyards, hedges, weed patches, and gardens. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it always looks like ivy. The plant also grows as a climbing vine, shrub or ground cover. Well-established vines on trees can resemble old grape vines or small tree branches.

Leaves may be light green or reddish in spring. They turn dark green in summer, then red, orange or yellow in autumn. Green summer leaves may have a glossy or waxy appearance, which fades in autumn. The plant is hard to identify without the leaves, but it also contains an oil that causes rashes.

The edges of the leaves may be smooth or slightly jagged. The vine is sometimes hairy and has no thorns. Small white flowers adorn the plant from May to July, forming berry-like fruits in late summer.

The arrangement of the leaflets is how poison ivy is commonly known: a cluster of three leaves, the middle leaf on a slightly longer stem. Although other plants have a similar pattern, remember, “Leaves of three, be” and “Mittens like side leaflets, will itch like dickens.”

As for the rash, it may appear from a day to a week or so after exposure to the plant. Any rash that occurs within minutes to hours of exposure to the plant is unlikely to be poison ivy (hence the medical name, Delayed hypersensitivity reactions). (However, other types of allergic reactions can occur to any plant.) In general, it takes 24 hours or more for the human body to respond to urushiol oil causing specific poison ivy.

The first sign of poison ivy dermatitis is usually erythema (redness) in the area of ​​exposure. Clusters of red dots or lines are characteristic. On the hands and feet it is usually caused by rubbing by the plant. On the neck or face, this is usually done by placing vegetable oil on the hands and then wiping the other part of the body. Interestingly, a poison ivy rash rarely develops on the palmar surface of the hand. In fact, in 25 years of medicine I don’t recall seeing a single case.

The next stage is small blisters, which may grow depending on the extent of your allergy and the amount of exposure. Sometimes blisters break, but this does not spread poison ivy. Once the oil is gone (after a shower), poison ivy cannot be transmitted. Sometimes it looks like the rash has spread from one part of the body to another, but this is actually due to previous contact with the plant. Some areas of the skin take longer to develop a rash.

Burning poison ivy, even dry leaves and vines is especially inappropriate. Smoke carries the oil to your face, your eyes, and your lungs, causing severe symptoms. This usually happens at campfires and burning brush. Eating poison ivy can cause your internal organs to swell, causing a potentially fatal reaction. (Of course, in decades of medicine, I’ve never seen a person eat poison ivy.)

Learn to identify the plant, avoid anything that looks like poison ivy, and the odds of remaining rash and itch-free are in your favor.

Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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