My mom was so allergic to poison ivy I still believe to this day she could have caught it by merely looking at the plants. I remember her being hospitalized once with poison ivy so bad on her hand that it resembled raw hamburger.
My dad on the other hand could’ve rolled around in the stuff and never known it. One night a few years back I went to change a flat tire on our mobile deer blind, which was still in the woods, and found it to be afloat in a sea of the healthiest poison ivy I’d ever seen. I chopped it down all around the tire, wore gloves and was pretty careful as I worked, but three or four days later I had a small patch of rash on one arm, the first time I ever "got" poison ivy.
Each stem of a poison ivy plant has three shiny, pointed green leaves, thus the old saying, "Leaves of three, let them be."
The troublemaker is the oil called urushiol that is found on poison ivy plants. Urushiol by itself is fairly harmless, but when absorbed by our skin, our body attacks it as an intruder and the red, itchy rash follows.
Urushiol is found in all parts of a poison ivy plant all year round and has actually been found to be present in plants that have been dead for up to five years.
Animals and pets do not react to urushiol but can carry it on their fur or hide and infect humans that way. It can also remain indefinitely on clothing and tools.
Liquid from poison ivy blisters will not spread poison ivy; urushiol must be absorbed by our skin to cause a reaction, and by the time a rash develops, the oil has long since been absorbed.
Sensitivity to poison ivy is thought to be genetic, so it can run in the family; someone sensitive to poison ivy can also have a reaction from the smoke of burning poison ivy plants.
To keep this from reading like a pamphlet about poison ivy you’d pick up at the County Extension office, I’ve put together a little fun trivia about the "leaves-of-three" plant, plus few not-so-common facts and cures for poison ivy rash.
Five hundred people could itch from the amount of urushiol found on the head of a pin. It’s estimated that 85 percent of the world’s population would have an allergic reaction to poison ivy.
Samples of urushiol several centuries old have still been found to cause skin irritation on sensitive people.
If using water to attempt to rinse urushiol off your skin before it’s absorbed, always rinse with cool water as hot water will actually open skin pores and speed absorption.
Capsaicin cream, labeled for arthritis pain, can suppress the itch of poison ivy rash for hours.
Apple cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol or lemon juice poured liberally over your skin can rinse off urushiol if done soon enough after contact. Those liquids can also help heal poison ivy rash if drizzled over the rash or used in a compress.
Other ways to soothe poison ivy rash include coating the rash with cucumber slices or a paste made from cucumber, and rubbing the rash with the inside of a banana peel or cool melon rind.
Witch hazel, strongly brewed tea, buttermilk or yogurt dabbed on poison ivy rash with a cotton ball can help draw toxins out of the rash and dry up seeping blisters.
Aloe vera juice will soothe poison ivy rash just as it soothes sunburn.
One cup of oatmeal ground into a fine powder, put into an old pair of pantyhose and used like a teabag in a tub of cool bathwater can provide relief from the intense itching of poison ivy rash.
Three teaspoons of baking soda mixed with one teaspoon of water makes a good paste to spread over poison ivy rash to aid in healing and offer temporary relief from itching.
In summary, lots of things can give relief from the itch of poison ivy rash, but the only sure way to prevent a reaction is to rinse off the urushiol oil before it can be absorbed into the skin.
The opening lines of the old Coasters song "Poison Ivy" say, "She comes on like a rose but everybody knows she’ll get you in dutch, you can look but you better not touch; poison ivy, poison ivy, at night when you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes creeping around."
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Steve can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.