SNYDER: The poison ivy menace is at seasonal prime
- The poison ivy menace is at its seasonal prime.
- Nearly 85 percent of the population is allergic to urushiol, the skin irritant in poison ivy.
- The most popular rule to avoid poison ivy is: “Leaves of three, let it be.”
I itch. My legs itch. My arms itch. And my neck itches.
It’s yet another reminder that poison ivy is my arch nemesis.
As the devilish plant reaches its seasonal prime, I have a feeling I’m not the only one who feels that way.
With nearly 85 percent of the population allergic to urushiol, the skin irritant in poison ivy, it's no wonder that reports of painful blisters go back centuries. In fact, the famous Captain John Smith coined the name poison ivy in 1609.
Urushiol is extremely potent. Just a quarter of an ounce would be all that's needed to infect every person on earth. Worst yet is the fact that urushiol is quite difficult to get rid of. Once it gets on clothes or any other surface, the oil can remain active for up to five years if not treated.
So, how do you avoid a painful outbreak? Simple, stay away from poison ivy. That means you have to know where the plant likes to grow and what it looks like.
The plant does not grow well in deep, thick forests or wide-open fields. It loves the brushy areas surrounding fields and at the edge of wood lines. Because of that, one of its favorite places to grow is in our flowerbeds — the spot where my wife recently picked up a nasty itch from the plant.
While it takes some practice to be able to properly identify poison ivy, there are some general guidelines to follow. The most popular rule is: “Leaves of three, let it be.” While there are exceptions, poison ivy generally grows in clusters of three leaves protruding from a single stem.
Most of the time, the plant’s leaves are fairly long and pointed. Some leaves are smooth while others are slightly more jagged. In the spring, fresh leaves are a very dark red and have a shiny appearance, an easy identifier. But in summer, the leaves turn a duller green and blend in with other plants. Detection is much harder.
Sometimes contact with poison ivy cannot be avoided. That is where a bottle of rubbing alcohol comes in. After coming in contact with the plant, immediately flush any exposed skin with rubbing alcohol. Then, wash the area with plenty of water.
Only then should you use soap to wash the affected area. That’s because soap can spread urushiol instead of removing it. Follow the same process for any clothes or gear that may have been in contact with poison ivy.
If all else fails, and you find yourself climbing out of bed with an itchy rash, hydrocortisone creams are often the only option. While they are not a perfect cure, they will lower the painful itching at least for a little while.
For most of us, poison ivy is an annual nuisance that’s simply part of spending time outdoors. If you spend much time with Mother Nature, you are bound to experience the joy of poison ivy.
Hopefully, with a little precaution the pain and itching can be kept to a minimum.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.