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BE HEALTHY: Poison Center’s tips for avoiding, treating poison ivy


BE HEALTHY: Poison Center’s tips for avoiding, treating poison ivy

Home Page staff reports

It’s the time of year when backyards attract children, trails beckon hikers, and poison ivy attacks the unwary.

It’s the time of year when backyards attract children, trails beckon hikers, and poison ivy attacks the unwary.

This itch-causing plant, along with poison oak and poison sumac, cause more allergic reactions than any other source, said Renee Miller, a certified specialist in poison information at the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Millions of Americans every year develop an allergic rash after being exposed, and these poisonous plants are pretty much everywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii,” Miller said. “Only about 15 percent of people are resistant to these plants, and sensitivity tends to decrease with age.”

Oils in the plants – not only the leaves, but in the vines and roots as well – penetrate the skin almost immediately after exposure and bind with proteins. This triggers the body’s immune system. Antibodies are activated with each subsequent exposure.

The best way not to have an itchy reaction is to avoid exposure in the first place.

“If there’s a risk for exposure, wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves and boots,” Miller said.

Rubber gloves aren’t protective because plant oils are soluble in rubber and will penetrate the skin. Pets and clothes can carry the allergens and can cause a reaction even in people who have not been exposed to the plant.

If the skin is exposed, the most important thing is to wash as quickly as possible with soap and lukewarm water. Some people may get a better result with a specially formulated soap that is designed to wash away urushiol, the active itch-causing substance on the plants.

“If you wash within the first 15 minutes after exposure, 100 percent of the oils can be washed away,” Miller said. “If you wait an hour, zero percent can be washed away.”

The characteristic rash usually appears within 24-28 hours, although it can be quicker or take longer.

If a rash develops, there are still some things that can be done to feel more comfortable.

“Once an exposure has occurred, topical steroids and antihistamines are the mainstay for treatment,” Miller said. “Prescription cortisone can halt the reaction if used early. Unfortunately, once the vesicular stage [with small fluid-filled blisters] has started, treatment with systemic steroids is the only effective solution. Oatmeal baths and cool showers may also be helpful.”

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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