Poison Ivy: Summer's Outdoor Curse?

Tuesday, July 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It is a curse of the outdoors. Poison ivy and its cousin, poison oak. Doctors are seeing more cases of exposure to poison ivy due to the fact that this is the plant's growing season. A season which coincides with more people outside, enjoying the great outdoors.

The woods are laced with it. Poison ivy is an innocent looking plant that can cause a severe skin irritation. Most people are allergic to it and for them, poison ivy causes blisters that rupture and ooze fluid. "Certainly you see more of it in the spring and summer when people are out in their flower beds and gardening. You also see a lot more of it this time of year. It's been hot and humid and we've had a lot of rain, so it's really taken off. We're seeing a little more of the plant in the last few weeks than maybe a month ago," says Doctor Scott Sexter, Springer Clinic.

Poison ivy is plentiful at the Oxley Nature Center, but poison oak is rare at best. "They're all in the same family and our position here is that what we call poison oak is really another variety of poison ivy," said Bob Jennings, Oxley Nature Center.
Poison ivy is easy to identify if you look closely. You are looking for three leaves in a bunch. The center leaf is on a stalk and the leaves are shaped like a mitten. Poison oak has the same three-leaf pattern with a slightly different shape. Both cause the same problems, but with a little care, the symptoms can be avoided. "If you wash your skin within ten minutes of being exposed, there's a good chance you won't have a reaction to it or very little reaction," says Dr. Sexter.

Here's how to treat Poison Ivy if you or a member of your family is exposed.

 Apply cool compresses
 Do not scratch the affected area.
 Apply Hydrocortisone cream liberally to the area
 You can also apply Antihistamine lotions.
 If symptoms appear, they can be treated with cool compresses.

It's important not to scratch, but most people will get relief with a combination of hydrocortisone creams and antihistamine lotions. Doctors say the best treatment is avoiding exposure in the first place.

There are plenty of myths surrounding poison ivy. Here are three.

 Is the plant really poison?
 It's only a problem in the summer.
 The blisters are contagious.

Here are the facts.

 It's not really poisonous, but it causes allergic symptoms.
 It's not just a problem in the summer.
 The fluid from the blisters does not spread the irritation.

Doctors say it's important to clean clothes and tools exposed to poison ivy, since that's how the irritation usually spreads. The best way to get rid of poison ivy from your yard is to try a herbicide, like "Roundup."