Each summer, thousands of people come into contact with poison ivy. For most, the reaction is minor but for others, it can result in weeks of discomfort. It is best to avoid contact with these plants entirely; long pants and long sleeved shirts are your first line of defense from both plants and insects in the outdoors. It is a good idea to invest in lightweight, breathable clothing for your summer activities. Learning to identify poison ivy and will help you steer clear and avoid unnecessary suffering. So, in the spirit of prevention, today’s topic is how to identify poison ivy and poison oak and what to do if you do happen to come into contact with it.
Poison ivy usually has three broad, spoon-shaped leaves or leaflets. Often, the stem is red near the base of the leaves. The phrase, “Leaves of three, let it be.” may help you remember. It grows as a climbing vine or a low, spreading vine or as a shrub and is most often found along rivers, lake fronts, and beaches. It has small white, ivory or yellow berries in the fall.
About half of those who come into contact with poison ivy develop an itchy rash. The most dangerous exposure happens when poison ivy is burned and the smoke is inhaled, which causes swelling of the lungs and airway. So, be careful when building a campfire or burning brush! If you know you have come into contact with one of the plants, immediately wash the skin that may be affected. Products such as Tecnu Oak-n-Ivy Cleanser or Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap can help neutralize the plant’s oil to minimize a reaction or perhaps prevent one entirely. Exposed clothing should be removed and washed right away, as well.
The rash, called allergic contact dermatitis, from poison ivy is caused by sensitivity to an oily resin called urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol) that is found in the leaves, stems and roots. The rash is typically mild and can be treated topically. Typical rash symptoms include; redness, itching, swelling and blisters. The rash often forms in a straight line because of the way the plant brushes against the skin. Contact with pet fur or on object with urushiol on it may cause a more spread out rash. The reaction usually develops 12-48 hours after exposure and will last 2-3 weeks. If the rash is severe, additional treatment may be required. See a doctor if; the reaction is severe or widespread, the rash is on your face or genitals, blisters are oozing pus, you develop a fever or if the rash lasts longer than 3 weeks.
To relieve itching, apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. Antihistamine tablets or cream may relieve symptoms. Try not to scratch the rash because will increase the risk of infection and will likely cause the rash to spread.
A natural remedy for rashes caused by poison ivy or insect bites is Jewelweed, which tends to grow in the same areas as poison ivy. The stems can be crushed and applied directly to the exposed area or it can be made into an infusion and stored for later use. If applied immediately, Jewelweed can prevent a reaction entirely. However, if a rash has already begun, Jewelweed will provide relief of symptoms.
Your Watershed cabin is only moments away from the many gifts that Bryson City has to offer; the Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake, Tsali Recreation Area, and Nantahala River to name just a few. We wish you a summer full of wonderfully exciting – and safe – adventures in the Smokies!