“Leaves of three, leave them be.” That’s great advice, especially when there is always a chance that you might make contact with everybody’s least favorite plant -poison ivy. This shiny, invasive vine results in an extremely itchy rash that spreads rapidly and seems to take forever to go away, can be avoided if you know what to look for. Below, some tips for staying away from poison ivy this summer, and what to do if you get it.
What’s the difference between poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac?
Shiny, dark green leaves, in clusters of three. This is the basic description of poison ivy. Most people know that there are two other types of poison plants which all release the same toxic substance – urushiol – that causes the terrible rash and itch. They are poison oak and poison sumac, indigenous to different climates. All three of these plants that cause the dreaded itching rash are found in the United States.
These three plants all look similar, and all release the same toxin, urushiol, which is an oil that spreads easily from skin to skin contact and through contact with contaminated clothing, pets, personal belongings and even bars of soap.
Poison sumac grows as a bush, with stems that contain the telltale shiny dark green leaves, but they are arranged in pairs rather than in threes, like poison ivy.
Poison oak and poison ivy grow in a vine-like formation.
All three of these types of poison plants are invasive, which means they crop up like weeds pretty much anywhere that they are permitted to thrive.
How to get rid of poison ivy around your property:
Before undertaking poison ivy removal, you’ll want to don protective clothing. Wear heavy pants and long sleeves that cover your arms and legs. Also put on thick socks and boots, as well as thick, protective gloves.
You can either use an herbicide to kill the plants before removing them, or you can don the aforementioned thick, protective gloves and outwear and pull poison ivy out at the root. This is a task that’s best not procrastinated, as poison ivy is not easy to pull out and disposal can also be a big job in itself.
After removing poison ivy from your yard, take precautions to prevent the oil from spreading to various parts of your body and by way of your clothing. Immediately place clothing into the wash, and clean with detergent. Thoroughly wash your hands using a liquid soap or detergent. If you think your pet has come into contact with poison ivy, clean him or her as well.
Even jackets, shoes, and gardening tools can still have traces of the uroshiol toxin that remain for years if not properly cleaned. As soon as possible, wash these items, including shoelaces, to avoid further spreading of the poison ivy toxin.
Symptoms of poison ivy:
Contact with poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak results in a raised red rash that spreads and “weeps”. The rash can take weeks to heal as it spreads to various parts of the body causing extreme itching and discomfort.
What to do if you develop poison ivy:
Poison ivy may start as a rashy patch on one area of the body, such as between the fingers, and spread gradually. To prevent it from spreading and to relieve the unbearable itch, apply calamine lotion to affected areas. There are also “barrier” creams designed to prevent the spread of this annoying rash.
Other ways to relieve reactions to poison ivy:
Hydrocortisone creams may reduce discomfort due to a poison ivy outbreak. Since the reaction to the poison ivy toxin is generally an allergy, an antihistamine is a good choice for keeping symptoms to a minimum.
If you get poison ivy bad, like my husband does, you might have to see a doctor and get a prescription for steroids, but your doctor will determine the best course of action for you.