How can a few drops of oil spoil a great trip?
If its urushiol oil - oil secreted from the poison ivy
plant - its pretty easy to figure out. In fact, you may be one of millions
of people who found out the hard way that a poison ivy rash is one vacation souvenir
you can live without! So before you pack up for your week in the Great Outdoors,
check out this quick primer on how to spot poison ivy and deal with its effects.
How it spreads
Poison ivy is easy to avoid if you know what to evade. The
problem is not the plant itself, but whats inside the plants stems,
leaves, berries, and roots.
When the delicate leaves of the poison ivy plant are damaged
by contact from people, insects or animals, it exudes urushiol oil (pronounced
Once this oil contacts the skin of a sensitive individual,
it rapidly penetrates the outer layer of dry skin (the epidermis) and gets into
the living layer (the dermis) where the allergic reaction occurs.
It doesnt take much oil to make you miserable. If you
barely brush your skin against the plant, a rash of red pimples, even blisters,
can break out. Physcians term this reaction contact dermatitis. In
response to the irritating oil, the body produces histamines, the substance that
causes an overabundance of mucuous when you have a cold. In the case of a poison
ivy rash, the fluid shows up as blisters in the skin. (Note: The fluid is not
the oil, rather the bodys attempt to wash it away.)
Unfortunately, the oil is very transferable. You don't have
to come into direct contact: touching your skin against clothing, pets, or even
inanimate objects on which the oil has transferred can cause a reaction. See Poison
Ivy Facts and Myths for more information on how its spread.
|Along with poison oak and sumac, poison ivy is responsible
for the most common plant allergies in the United States
|First published records of poison ivy dated in the 1600s;
Poison Ivy was coined by Captain John Smith in 1609
|One billionth of a gram (a nanogram) can cause a rash, but
most people come into contact with about 100 nanograms!
|500 people could itch from the amount covering the head of
|Specimens of urushiol oil hundreds of years old have caused
dermatitis in sensitive people
|The oil normally stays active for 1 - 5 years on any surface
|Its name is derived from urushi, a Japanese word meaning
Stopping poison ivy before it stops you
You know you don't want to get too close to poison ivy. But
how do you avoid it when youre hiking, fishing, camping, and doing all the
other things you love to do in the woods? Knowing the plants appearance
and habitat is your greatest protection.
Unfortunately, poison ivy is an adaptable plant that may appear
as little sprouts, vines, or bushes with shiny green or dull green/brown leaves.
Seeing one plant is an indication that more will be in the area-usually in a proverbial
patch characterized by marginal soil and drainage.
The good news is that all varieties share a common trait:
poison ivy leaves grow in clusters of three, with two leaves growing opposite
on the stem and the third at the top. Just be aware of your surroundings and steer
clear of anything resembling poison ivy.
Sounds simple enough, but just knowing the plants appearance
wont be enough if youre traveling through areas rife with poison ivy.
Youll have to dress defensively by wearing clothing that minimizes
your skins exposure to poison ivy plants. Long pants, long-sleeved shirts,
and hiking boots will help, as will gloves. Coincidentally, the same type of clothing
worn to prevent poison ivy will also help protect you from ticks, which in some
cases can cause lyme disease.