Tips for fighting poison ivy

Think of it as the cockroach of the weed world.

Poison ivy thrives in extreme heat and drought and spreads through the most casual of contact. And, like the crunchy insect pests, it can seem impossible to eradicate.

With all of summer's outdoor activity, we're scratching our information itch by looking at what threats the weed poses and how they can be avoided or at least mitigated and treated.

Indirect contact

Urushiol oil is present in all parts of the poison ivy plant, and you'll know whether you've come in contact with it — most people will develop an itchy, blistering rash. The more you've come in contact, the more allergic you're likely to become.

This rash might not develop until 12 to 24 hours after contact, when it's too late to take steps to prevent or lessen the effects, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

And there are surprising ways to become infected. A lot of people get itouching something that rubbed up against the weed, like perring their dog or touching a lawn care trimmer.

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Its leaves grow in clusters of three, and it sprouts green-yellow flowers in the spring. If you do notice that you've been exposed to the vine, there are some immediate steps you can take:

  • Rinse your skin with lukewarm water. It is possible to remove some of the oil.
  • Wash tools and any clothing that might have come in contact with the vine. Oil remaining on these surfaces can reapply to the skin.
  • Bathe your pets. Although they won't develop allergic reactions, critters can transfer urushiol oil from their hair or fur to humans or onto surfaces with which owners might come in contact.

Oatmeal bath can help

Once a rash has developed, there are ways to ease your suffering, which can last for several weeks.

Don't worry about scratching the rash and then transferring it to other parts of your body. Once a rash has developed, that can't happen. Further outbreaks are a delayed result of the original exposure.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends oatmeal or baking soda baths, calamine lotion, cool showers and compresses, and oral antihistamines to relieve the intense itching (the academy says that topical antihistamines, however, can make both the rash and the itching worse).

If you have a serious reaction that includes difficulty breathing and swallowing, or swelling — especially to the face — you should seek immediate medical attention. Severe cases may require steroid ointments or antibiotics.