Ask the Community Pharmacy & Seniors Wellness Expert – Tammi Hanowski, BSP, Pharmacist
POISON IVY! Just the thought of it can cause shivers up our spine. All too often someone running into this unpleasant plant can sour our fun camping days.
Poison ivy is probably responsible for more cases of plant dermatitis in Canada than any other plant, however most people aren’t aware of what it looks like, let alone what to do if you run into it.
Prevent a rash from poison ivy
There are two ways to prevent a rash:
- Avoid these poisonous plants.
- Protect your skin.
What poison ivy looks like?
- Each leaf has 3 small leaflets.
- It grows as a shrub (low woody plant)
- In spring, it grows yellow-green flowers.
- It may have green berries that turn off-white in early fall
How to protect your skin from poison ivy
Sometimes you cannot avoid these plants. When you find yourself in this situation, there are some precautions you can take:
- Use a skin-care product called an ivy block barrier. This helps prevent the skin from absorbing the oil, which causes the rash. Be sure to apply the block before going outdoors.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves. Even when you apply an ivy block barrier you need to cover your skin with clothing.
A rash from poison ivy is caused by an oil found in these plants called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). When this oil touches your skin, it often causes an itchy, blistering rash.
Most people can safely treat the rash at home
- Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water.
If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.
- Wash your clothing.
Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.
- Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface.
Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.
- Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
- Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
- Take short, lukewarm baths.
To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths containing an oatmeal based product.
- Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream.
- Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin.
- Consider taking antihistamine pills.
These pills can help reduce itching, however, you should not apply an antihistamine cream to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room right away.
- You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
- The rash covers most of your body.
- You have many rashes or blisters.
- You experience swelling, especially if an eyelid swells shut.
- The rash develops anywhere on your face or genitals.
- Much of your skin itches, or nothing seems to ease the itch.
Prevention is key, so get to know this plant. “Leaflets three, let it be” is a good reminder of what poison ivy looks like. And don’t forget to ask your pharmacist what products you can keep in your first aid kit to help if you ever do need to treat a poison ivy rash.
306-653-5111, 1-800-695-4788, www.cheethamspharmacy.ca.