A walk in the woods is a wonderful outdoor activity. Contact with a patch of poison ivy, oak or sumac is not.
Learning to recognize these plants and staying away from them is the best form of treatment. (See illustrations.) Contact with the green or dried parts of any of the plants can cause an uncomfortable, itchy rash that has a streaked or spotted appearance.
The poison ivy rash is actually an allergic reaction to the plant oil. As with all allergies, not all people will develop the same reaction.
All parts of the plant contain the oil. Dried leaves and stems can bring about a reaction as can the smoke from burning plants, so take care when burning brush or lighting campfires.
Contrary to popular belief, drainage from the blisters cannot spread a poison ivy rash. Only the plant oil causes the reaction. Open blisters can become infected, though, so keep the area clean.
Dogs and other animals don’t seem to be affected by poison ivy, but they can carry the oil on their fur and cause a reaction in people who touch the fur. Other ways the oil can be carried are on shoes, toys, clothing and even golf balls that have gone through the rough.
The severity of your reaction can change over a period of time, too. Highly sensitive people can become resistant, while others who have never had a prior reaction can suddenly develop a nasty case of poison ivy.
You’ll first notice redness, swelling and itching at the site about two days after contact. After a few days, blisters can form in a streaked or spotted rash, oozing a serum from damaged skin cells. The lesions will dry, heal and stop itching in 10 to 14 days.
If you know your child has come in contact with one of the poisonous plants, wash the exposed skin with soap and water for at least 10 minutes to remove the plant oil. Use care with clothing — the oil can spread from the clothes to the skin and cause a new or wider rash. Wash all clothing promptly and thoroughly.
There are several ways to increase your child’s comfort when a case of poison ivy develops. Cool compresses, calamine lotion applied to the rash with a cotton ball and oatmeal baths are all time-honored treatments. Topical corticosteroid ointment is effective for the prevention or relief of inflammation, especially when applied before blisters appear.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Call your child’s doctor if he has:
The best way to prevent poison ivy rashes is to avoid the plants that cause these allergic reactions. Teach your child to recognize these plants. (See illustrations.)
Poison ivy grows almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. Poison oak is mainly found west of the Rockies, and poison sumac is usually restricted to swamp areas in the southeast. The only areas of the country where there is little likelihood of finding these plants are areas above 4,000 feet in elevation; and Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
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