February 20, 2020

Preventing and treating poison ivy


Poison ivy is a native plant so it can’t be eradicated, but there are ways to get it out of your way for the season. (Courtesy of the USDA)

WASHINGTON – It’s the time of year when everyone starts heading outside. And it
is also the time of year when doctors see an uptick in poison ivy cases.

The plant itself is not seasonal. It grows year-round and poses a threat even in
the dead of winter.

However, people are more likely to come into contact with poison ivy when
gardening or
engaging in more active outdoor activities, such as hiking.

Poison ivy is a native plant, which means it will never be totally eradicated.
But WTOP Garden Editor Mike
McGrath says there is a safe way to get rid of it for the season.

He says herbicides are not a good option because even after application, the plant
is still allergenic to the
touch. He also warns that garden gloves should never be worn when removing poison
ivy because the oil in
the plant that causes a rash is easily spread from one surface to another.

“It’s going to be on doorknobs, it is going to be on car handles, it is going to
be on your steering wheel,” McGrath says.

Instead, he says get a big rolling trash can, a helper with a hose and a bunch of
thick plastic shopping bags
from the mall (McGrath says plastic bags from the supermarket are too thin).

“When you see a poison ivy vine, have your helper wet the soil around the base
using the hose. Let it go for
about 3 or 4 minutes until that soil is really saturated,” he says.

Once that is done, slip a plastic bag up each arm, and gently begin to pull out
the roots. McGrath says when
the final root comes out of the ground, pull the bags down over your arms without
touching the vine and
throw the bags and the vine in the trashcan.

Under no circumstance should anyone burn the vines with yard debris because the
oil in the plant mixes
with the smoke, McGrath advises. This mixture can be very dangerous if inhaled.

McGrath says firefighters dealing with wild fires routinely use respirators to
protect their lungs, and they
wear a clay-type compound to protect their bodies from any poison ivy allergens
that might get on their

That compound — Ivy Block — is available over-the-counter and is a good source
of extra prevention for
those who are extremely sensitive to poison ivy. McGrath says for most people, the
best thing to do is just
remember to rinse any exposed areas with cool water immediately after contact with
the vine.

“The more you wash it with cool, clear water, the better the chances you have of

getting the oil off your skin
before the reaction can begin,” he says, noting it takes 10-30 minutes for the oil
to penetrate the skin.

Washing the skin with cool water is key because it dissolves the oil.

Dr. Howard Brooks, a Georgetown-based dermatologist, says he urges his garden

warrior patients to
routinely take a cool shower after working outside, even if they are not sure they
have been exposed to
poison ivy.

However, if patients are exposed, he is ready with a plan of attack. Brooks says
most garden-variety poison
ivy can be treated at home first with cold compresses to reduce inflation,
followed by aloe vera, calamine
lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone.

Severe cases demand medical attention, especially when on the face.

“Any infection on the face, around the mouth, nose, if you have swollen eyes,
swollen skin and blistering,
you really want to go in and see a dermatologist,” Brooks says.



poison ivy


paula wolfson






mike mcgrath


garden plot


howard brooks




Preventing and treating poison ivy

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