Keep Poison Ivy from Derailing Your Summer Plans

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As the saying goes, “Leaves of 3, let them be.”

A whopping 85 percent of people develop an allergic reaction to poison ivy.

“I have patients who thought they weren’t allergic to poison ivy,” said  Dr. Brooks Mersing, of Mon Health Wedgewood Primary Care. “Just because you don’t have an allergic reaction once, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a reaction the next time you’re exposed. Most people do.”

Typically the first time your skin comes into contact with poison ivy, it develops sensitivity to the plant toxin, an oily substance called urushiol. This means that the second time you come into contact with the oil, you’ll have an allergic reaction.

“About 24 to 72 hours after exposure, you’ll notice an itchy rash with bumps, blisters and maybe swelling,” Dr. Mersing said. “The blisters will eventually break, ooze and then crust over.”

To treat the itching, Dr. Mersing suggests using over-the-counter products like calamine lotion or a colloidal oatmeal bath.

“While most poison ivy reactions are treatable at home, there will be times when it’s worthwhile to seek medical help,” Dr. Mersing said. “If the rash covers large areas of your body, your face or genitals or is keeping you from sleeping, come see us.”

Medical providers may prescribe a steroid cream, pills or an injection to help decrease the swelling and itching. Dr. Mersing added that a fever over 100 degrees may indicate an infection.

“If you’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing, or have swelling, specifically around your eyes, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room,” Dr. Mersing said.

Knowing how to identify the pesky plant and protect yourself and your family from exposure is the best way to prevent a poison ivy reaction.

The oil from the poison ivy plant spreads easily and can remain on unwashed clothes and shoes for up to a year. Wash all items that have come in contact with poison ivy, including your shoes.

If you think your skin has been exposed, wash the area with soap and water three times. Pets can also transfer the poison ivy oil. Be sure to bathe your animals if they’ve been exposed to the three-leaf plant.

“It’s a myth that you can spread a poison ivy rash to another person,” Dr. Mersing said, “But if the oils are on your skin, clothes, shoes or even your pet,  you can certainly expose others.”

Call 304-599-9400 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mersing.

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Holly Webb

Marketing Manager at Mon Health
A writer, editor, event planner, brand ambassador, wife, toddler mom and experimental baker.

WVU College of Media and Penn State University College of Communications, University Park, alumna.
Holly Webb
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