As the weather gets warmer, many residents of the Lowcountry love to spend their free time camping or hiking in the woods.  While this can be a fun family activity, it is important to beware of poison ivy.
Poison ivy can cause rashes and in severe cases swelling and severe blisters. The rash is caused by an oil found in the plant known as urushiol. The itchy, blistering rash often does not start right away. Generally it takes 12 to 72 hours after the oil comes into contact with a persons skin before the rash appears.  It is not uncommon for a persons skin not to develop a rash after the first time their skin comes into contact with the urushiol.  The next time it happens though, the skin will more than likely be more sensitive and the common symptoms for poison ivy will occur.
There are a few ways to get this rash:
Direct Contact: By simply touching the poison ivy, you can get a rash. Every part of the plant – the leaves, stems, roots, and flowers – contains the oil.
Indirect Contact: Urushiol can stick to almost anything. For example, if you touch a gardening tool or even your pet’s fur that happens to have the oil on it, you can get a rash. It is important to be careful so as not to have anything come into contact with poison ivy.
Airborne Contact: While burning these poisonous plants may seem like a good idea, doing so will release particles of urushiol into the air, which can stick to the skin.
Poison ivy is not contagious either. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is not possible to get this rash from touching someone who has the rash. This is because the skin absorbs the oil too quickly. You cannot get a rash from getting the fluid in the blisters on your skin.
Most people see the rash go away naturally in a few weeks. There are a number of things that a person can do to make the skin feel more comfortable during this time though. This includes applying hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to the rash, taking antihistamine pills, placing cool cloths on the skin, taking cool showers or lukewarm baths, and most importantly not scratching the areas of the skin where the rash is.
Anyone that gets a rash from one of these poisonous plants should wash all articles of clothing that they were wearing when they came into contact with the plant as well as washing anything else that may have come into contact with the plant. This includes things like sports equipment and gardening tools.
One of the best ways to prevent poison ivy rashes is knowing what the plant looks like so you can avoid it altogether. On these plants, there are three small leaflets on each leaf. In the Lowcountry, it grows on a vine. In the Spring, the plant grows yellow-green flowers. It also may have green berries that turn off-white in early fall.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a person should use a skin care product that helps prevent the skin from absorbing the urushiol to prevent a rash from poison ivy. These products usually contain bentoquatam. It is also recommended that you wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves when around these plants.
While most of these rashes go away without treatment in a few weeks, it is important to seek treatment if you have one or more of these reactions:
·      The itching doesn’t go away.
·      You have rashes on several areas of your body.
·      You have a fever.
·      Your face swells.
·      Breathing or swallowing is difficult.
In these instances it is best to seek treatment from Dr. Germain and her staff immediately.
Marguerite Germain