KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Warmer days mean more time outdoors and more chances of coming in contact with poison ivy.
The oil in poison ivy plants causes an allergic reaction in 75 percent of people who come in contact with it. Most just get a mild rash that can be treated at home, but some children get a severe rash requiring medical treatment.
Dr. Shannon Cohen, a physician at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, says most people know they can get poison ivy by touching the plant, but many people don’t know that the plant’s oil can be passed from person-to-person, on a family pet or on anything else that has come in contact with the oil. She says the oil can also travel through the air if someone burns plants to clear brush.
“Never burn poison ivy to get rid of it,” cautions Dr. Cohen. “This is extremely dangerous because the oil releases a toxin that, if inhaled, can cause a severe allergic reaction in your lungs and throat. This can be fatal.”
Urushiol is the oil in poison ivy plants that come in contact with your skin causing an allergic reaction. Transferring the oil is how the itch spreads across your body.
Dr. Cohen says is it a good idea to teach kids how to identify poison ivy by showing them how to identify the shiny leaves and pointed leaves growing in groups of three.
“Just like you heard as a kid, ‘leaves of three, let it be,’ said Dr. Cohen. “It can grow in a vine or as a shrub and is often found on trees or around fences.”
If you come in contact with the plant or oil from the plant, Dr. Cohen says remove clothing and wash it, carefully scrub under fingernails with soap and water and take a shower to wash off any remaining oil.
“An oatmeal bath may help with itching once you get the rash,” said Dr. Cohen, “but don’t take a bath as your first defense to wash off the oil in poison ivy plants because it can get in the bath water and spread to other areas of your body.”
For a mild rash, Dr. Cohen recommends applying calamine lotion three or four times a day to cut down on itching. A topical one percent hydrocortisone cream can also be applied to decrease inflammation.
If a rash is severe, on the face, or on extensive parts of the body, Dr. Cohen recommends seeing a doctor. She says a doctor should be seen for any sign of infection, such as blisters, redness or oozing if a child has a fever from poison ivy or the rash doesn’t go away with home treatment.
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