Poison Ivy

June 05, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

If the mere thought of poison ivy has you "scratchin' like a hound," read this.

The best way to avoid having an allergic reaction to poison ivy is to avoid having contact with the plant. The saying, "Leaves of three, let them be," is old, but good, advice.

--cont from lifestyle--

The culprit is urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-shee-ohl), a chemical in the sap of all parts of poison ivy, oak and sumac plants. Poisoning occurs from contact with the nasty stuff - usually from touching part of a bruised plant, but it is easily transferred from object to object, according to University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service information.

Clothing can be contaminated, and pets can carry the poison and pass it along to loving owners. The toxin also is found in smoke from burning plants.


Approximately 85 percent of people who are exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac will develop an allergic reaction, according to information on the Web site of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It may not happen on your first contact. Sensitivity increases with exposure, says Dr. James A. Schiro, a Hagerstown dermatologist.

The allergic reaction occurs in your body's attempt to protect you. White cells rally to the place of contact. Some of the white cells become "memory" cells and can live for years, Schiro says. They'll be ready to fight the offending chemical next time. The result is an itchy rash that usually develops within 12 to 48 hours after contact with the urushiol, according to information provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of National Institutes of Health.

At first the skin becomes red, and then bumps and blisters appear, along with itching and sometimes swelling. The rash usually is at its worst after about five days, then gradually improves within a week or two even without treatment, the institute reports.

If your mother told you not to scratch because the ooze from the poison ivy rash or blisters would cause it to spread, she was wrong. But scratching may introduce bacteria to the open sores and a secondary bacterial infection could result. No one can "catch" poison ivy from you - unless the urushiol is present on your skin.

Too late

OK. So you didn't see it. You have it and the itch is driving you crazy.

Remedies include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Cold wet compresses of water or diluted liquid aluminum acetate (Burrow's solution)


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Cool showers or soaks in a lukewarm bath with oatmeal or baking soda

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams

See a doctor if the rash is severe, is on the face or genitals or covers more than 20 percent of the body. Physicians may prescribe antihistamines and/or corticosteroids.

If the rash gets worse after treatment, you should suspect an allergic reaction to what has been applied, the institute cautions.


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