Let it be!
Leaves of five
Let it thrive!
- Rhyme to identify poison ivy
But just why is poison ivy such a problem? If you are one of the few people that doesn't get the itchy, miserable rash, consider yourself lucky. Scientists say that the reason interactions with any part of the poison ivy plant can cause red, itchy rashes on skin is due to the presence of urushiol, an oil naturally produced as a defense by the plant. This oil is found in all areas of the plant, from leaves and berries to stems and roots, so touching just about any part of the plant has the potential to make you itchy. Even during winter dormancy or when the plant is completely dead the oil is present in parts of the vine, so having a 'hands off' policy is always a good idea when it comes to this plant.
It can be very difficult to remove the ivy's oil from your skin once you have made contact with it. Most regular hand soaps are ineffective, but there are special soaps that are specifically made to break down the oils and remove them before they irritate skin. After exposure, most rashes go away in a few days or longer, and most people respond well to over-the-counter treatments. Folk tales even suggest that soaking in salt water can help hasten healing, so maybe a mild ivy rash is a good excuse to head to the beach (whether it works or not!)
If you have a severe or prolonged reaction to poison ivy, seeing a doctor is important. For a few people the rash can continue to get worse and worse and must be treated with prescription medication before an infection sets in.
For more information on recognizing, treating, and avoiding poison ivy visit these websites by clicking on each:
The American Academy of Dermatology's Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac page
Poison Ivy.org: Information about poison ivy, oak, and sumac and the rashes they cause
Poison ivy rash information from the Mayo Clinic