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July 22, 2018

Steering Clear of Poison Ivy

Alexa Grace
Personal Health
Personal Health

Jane Brody on health and aging.

I was once among those who claim, “I could walk through a field of poison ivy and not get it.” One day I learned otherwise: On a hike, I needed to relieve myself in the great outdoors and ended up with an impossibly itchy, blistering rash on a most delicate body part.

Too late I learned that you can develop an allergic reaction to poison ivy after previously uneventful exposures, which induce a sensitivity to the plant’s oily sap, urushiol. Once sensitized, your skin is likely to react to every subsequent exposure. Even people repeatedly exposed who appear to be immune may react to high concentrations of the toxin.

I also learned not to rely on the popular warning, “Leaves of three, let them be,” to alert me to the presence of Toxicodendron radicans, as the poison ivy plant is aptly called by botanists. It is not just the leaves that can provoke a reaction; the stems, roots, flowers and berries all contain urushiol.

Touching or brushing against any of these plant parts, even if they are dead, can cause a reaction. The sap is hardy and can cause a rash in the dead of winter, or even a year after contaminating clothing or shoes that are not thoroughly cleaned.

Poison oak.iStockPoison oak.
Poison sumac.Zoran Ivanovich/The New York TimesPoison sumac.
Poison ivy.iStockPoison ivy.

Urushiol shows up elsewhere, including in the skin of mangoes (and the leaves and bark of the mango tree), as I discovered when I ate a mango still in the rind and ended up with a blistering rash on my mouth. Cashew shells also have the toxin, which is why cashews are sold shelled and processed (either roasted or in the case of “raw” cashews, steamed) at a temperature high enough to destroy urushiol. Poison ivy is not the only problem plant one might encounter while hiking, camping or simply strolling in the countryside. T. radicans has two relatives, poison oak and poison sumac, that don’t always form the classic clusters but are equally toxic troublemakers.

Myths and misconceptions abound about these three plants and the reactions they can cause. Knowing the facts can help to spare you and your family considerable distress.

First, learn to recognize the plants in their various growth patterns. While poison ivy is most often encountered as a small ground plant, it also grows as a shrub and vine. The vines, which turn bright red in fall, were once used to adorn buildings in England.

Poison oak, which has compound leaves made up of three (or sometimes five) leaflets, usually grows as a shrub, but will form a vine in the Western states.

Poison sumac, which grows as a tall shrub or small tree, produces leaves with rows of paired leaflets and a single leaflet at the end. It likes a wet habitat, growing in peat bogs in the Northeast and Midwest and swamps in the Southeast.

Urushiol can penetrate cloth. Although long sleeves, pants and gloves can reduce the risk of exposure, they cannot guarantee protection. Even rubber gloves can be breached. If you must handle the plants or are likely to contact poison ivy when gardening, wear vinyl gloves.

You don’t have to touch the plant directly to react to urushiol. Gardening tools, sporting equipment, even a pet that has been in a patch of poison ivy — all can cause a reaction. My brother, who has been sensitive to urushiol since childhood, once developed the rash on his arm after retrieving a baseball that had rolled through poison ivy.

Before possible exposure, use an over-the-counter skin-care product containing bentoquatam (IvyBlock) to prevent or reduce absorption of urushiol. The combination of this barrier product and protective clothing is your best defense against an inadvertent encounter.

But there is no scientific evidence that jewelweed, feverfew, plantain or other herbal remedies prevent or cure a urushiol-induced rash.

Nor do you become immune to urushiol through repeated exposures to small amounts. Quite the opposite. There is no way to desensitize a person to urushiol as there is with pollen and peanut allergies. Eating mangoes or cashews will not work.

Contrary to popular belief, a poison ivy rash is not contagious. It cannot be spread by oozing blisters, or by scratching or touching the rash. Only direct contact with urushiol causes a reaction. (Scratching can result in an infection, however.)

The rash can appear on different parts of the body at various times. This may happen because the parts were exposed at different times, or because areas with thicker skin are less easily penetrated by the oil. The delicate skin of the genital and perianal areas, for example, is more easily breached than tougher skin on the hands.

Repeated tilling or mowing can eventually kill poison ivy plants, as can repeated applications of an herbicide like Roundup. The latter should be applied with serious caution and only on a warm, sunny day with little or no wind when the plants are actively growing.

If you are highly allergic, or wary of applying herbicides, clearing your property of the plants may be best left to a professional. While goats are said to have a hearty appetite for poison ivy plants, they may eat everything else in the yard, too.

Never try to burn a poison plant. Burning releases the toxin, which may land on skin or, worse, be inhaled and cause a serious internal reaction.

Should you contact a urushiol-containing plant, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your skin immediately. Lukewarm, soapy water is best, but even plain water can limit exposure to the sap. Take care in removing contaminated clothing, and wash it separately as soon as possible.

You can relieve a rash by applying cool compresses with an astringent like Burow’s solution, soaking the affected area in colloidal oatmeal, or using calamine lotion; all are sold over the counter. Do not apply products containing a topical antihistamine, like Benadryl, which can cause a sensitivity reaction that makes matters worse.

Severe reactions may require medically prescribed treatment with an oral corticosteroid like prednisone.

A version of this article appears in print on 06/17/2014, on page D7 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Steering Clear of Poison Ivy.

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Steering Clear of Poison Ivy

Treating Poison Ivy: Ease the Itch With Tips From Dermatologists

SCHAUMBURG, IL–(Marketwired – Apr 8, 2014) – As summer approaches and the landscape turns greener, so too are the leaves from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. When the oil from these plants touches the skin, most people (about 85 percent) develop an itchy, blistering rash. Although the rash itself is not contagious, the oil can spread to other areas of the body and from person to person if not quickly washed off after touching the plants. Fortunately, there are simple steps people can take to safely treat the rash at home.

“If you are absolutely certain that your rash is due to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, and if the rash appears on a small section of your skin, you may be able to treat the rash at home,” said board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Plano, Texas and serves as clinical assistant professor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “However, if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, you experience swelling, or you have many rashes or blisters, go to the emergency room right away.”

If you are not experiencing a serious reaction, Dr. Desai recommends the following tips for treating the rash and easing the itch:

1. Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. This helps ensure that the oil does not spread to other areas of the body and cause additional rashes.
2. 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.
3. Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac 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.
4. Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
5. Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
6. Take short, lukewarm baths. To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.
7. Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion may also help.
8. Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.
9. Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply a topical antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.

“A rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac usually lasts one to three weeks,” said Dr. Desai. “If your rash is not improving after seven to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a board-certified dermatologist for treatment.”

The “Poison Ivy: How to Treat” video is posted to the American Academy of Dermatology’s (Academy) website and the Academy’s YouTube channel. This video is part of the Dermatology A to Z: Video Series, which offers relatable videos that demonstrate tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails. A new video in the series posts to the Academy’s website and YouTube channel each month.

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 17,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org. Follow the Academy on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology) or Twitter (@AADskin).

To view this release in a media-rich version, go to: http://www.pwrnewmedia.com/2014/aad/poison_ivy/

Contact:

Jennifer Allyn

(847) 240-1730


Email Contact

Nicole DiVito
(847) 240-1746
Email Contact

Kara Jilek
(847) 240-1701
Email Contact

Original source:  

Treating Poison Ivy: Ease the Itch With Tips From Dermatologists

Recent Weather Trends Making Poison Ivy Worse

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July 30, 2013

The wet summer is causing several weeds and vines to grow more quickly than normal, including poison ivy. And research suggests that climate change may be making the plants bigger and more toxic.

The Cogill family, from Charlottesville, was enjoying a nice walk on the Monticello Trail on Tuesday, when 9-year-old Ada saw some poison ivy and warned her brother.

“Sid was about to walk right through it,” Ada said. “So I pointed it out to him, ‘Sid there’s a patch of poison ivy that you’re about to walk through!'”

Ada’s had it before, so she knows why it is important to avoid.

“I hate being itchy like that,” Ada said. “And having to scratch it because it’s too itchy.”

Charlottesville’s trails planner, Chris Gensic, is noticing it more.

“It’s been a really good year for plants to grow,” Gensic said. “So we’re seeing the poison ivy growing a little faster than it normally does.”

At times, the poison ivy is right near the walking trail. Gensic pointed to several examples in Quarry Park and Riverview Park. Gensic says park officials focus on clearing it from trails and baseball fields, but they can’t get rid of all of it.

“There’s also whole areas where it could be in there and we’re not just going to chemical bomb the whole area,” Gensic said.

Scientists say climate change could be making it worse. A study from the National Academy of Sciences says poison ivy especially feasts on rising carbon dioxide, making it grow faster and more toxic.

“Best thing you can do is know what the plant is and avoid it,” Gensic said.

Ada’s 5-year-old brother, Sid, knows some rhymes that can help out with that.

“Leaves of three, let them be,” Sid said. “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.”

The plant is distinguished by its shiny leaves in a pattern of three, and a red, hairy vine that it uses to scale trees.

But it can also come in contact with humans through other ways, like pets.

“I definitely do see it this year a lot more,” said Sammy Swale, who runs Sammy’s Dogwalking Service in Charlottesville. He has to be careful that the pets don’t take the toxic poison ivy oils back to their owners.

“Dogs brushing up against it, playing in it, running in it, and just walking through it,” Swale said. “Then you put your hands and arms on it of course because the dog rubs up against you.”

Swale keeps the dogs away from trails to avoid coming into contact with poison ivy. He also protects himself by always wearing long pants.

“It’s very painful, and I don’t want it on my legs,” Swale said.

Read this article: 

Recent Weather Trends Making Poison Ivy Worse

School Notes: Goats Bring National Recognition to Reading Elementary School

The fifth-graders at Reading, Vt., Elementary School, all six of them, may be small in number. Yet in developing an eco-friendly solution to removing the poison ivy at their school, they’ve embodied the famous Margaret Mead quote that hangs in their classroom: that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

That’s not to overlook the efforts of Sadie, Izzy and Happy, the three Boer goats who have consumed the poison ivy leaves on the school playground. But Abigail Merseal, Hayley Mullins, Kit Oney, Nevaeh Sullivan, Nick Bishop and Sam Mitchell evaluated the cost-efficiency and environmental impact of each plan, came up with the idea of using goats, and approached the principal and the Reading School Board for permission to let goats graze on the school grounds.

Not only have the goats gone a long way in eradicating the poison ivy problem, but the fifth-graders’ eco-conscious project contributed to Reading Elementary being named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Collins’ class travels to Burlington today to be recognized by Gov. Peter Shumlin as a recipient of the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. And the class is currently raising the $4,000 needed for a trip to Washington, D.C., to be recognized with all 64 schools nationwide that received the Green Ribbon designation, awarded to schools that adopt energy efficient and environmentally savvy practices.

Besides the addition of the goats to the school’s ecosystem, Reading has a school garden where vegetables are raised for the cafeteria and food scraps are composted, and the school’s third- and fourth-grade class built a covered bridge over a stream that connects the school to a nearby woodlands area, used for environmental education.

The Green Ribbon designation has given a boost in morale to the small elementary school, which in the past has been targeted for closure.

“It not only validates the importance of the school in our community, it validates the importance of having children in a community school,” said Principal Lou Lafasciano, known as “Dr. Lou” around the school. “That community spirit is alive and well. That’s the kind of school everybody wants their child in.”

The poison ivy problem on the Reading Elementary playground could have been improved with a chemical solution, but that was not a road the fifth-graders wanted to take. “This was a wetland,” said fifth-grader Kit Oney. “And if we put chemicals in there, it would have killed a lot of animals.”

Instead, the students considered several different eradication methods that would not be harmful to the land and creatures around the school, or the students and faculty who spend their days there. They ruled out covering the poison ivy with black plastic, and pouring a vinegar and soapy water solutions and boiling water over the weed. A Google search for “cute ways to eradicate poison ivy” yielded information about using goats, who have special enzymes that allow them to safely eat the plant.

They were further encouraged when Dr. Lou told them that he’d heard on Vermont Public Radio of how Stephen Brooks, the cemetery commissioner in Charlotte, Vt., was deploying goats to ameliorate the poison ivy in the town’s cemeteries. The students took it upon themselves to call Brooks and gather information about implementing a similar program.

Finding a group of goats was no trouble . Malisa Williams, the sister of the third- and fourth-grade teacher at Reading, raises goats, but needed to let her land recover from their grazing for a few months. “She was willing to let her goats go for six weeks in the fall,” said fifth-grader Abigail Merseal. So Sadie, Izzy and Happy found new homes at the Reading Elementary playground, penned in by an electric fence, and with all the poison ivy they could want.

More difficult was compiling their research for a presentation to the Reading School Board, in order to secure permission to bring the goats to the school. They had to figure out what possible arguments board members might raise, and come up with alternate plans in case any part of their proposal was rejected. “It was — how should I put this …” Sam Mitchell began.

“Nervewracking,” Nick Bishop interjected.

“Good one,” Sam continued. “We were nervous, but we did a good job.” At present, the goats have consumed one-and-a-half acres of poison ivy on the school grounds, and the students have received a grant for $907 from the Woodstock Union High School Foundation to purchase supplies like a goat shelter to keep the goats at the school.

And, if the class manages to raise $4,000 in the coming weeks, they’ll travel to the White House with the other Green Ribbon School recipients; about $3,500 has been raised thus far

“A little class is going to Washington, D.C.,” said fifth-grader Nevaeh Sullivan. “If we were at some other school, this probably would never happen.”

To make that trip happen, though, the class is once again looking to the community to lend a hand. To donate, visit www.razoo.com/story/Green-Goat-5th-Graders-Go-To-Washington.

Achievements

Susannah Howard, a sophomore at Thetford Academy, was accepted to MedQuest 2013, a program at Lyndon State College that exposes students to health care career options through job shadowing and training in medical procedures like CPR. MedQuest 2013 will be held from July 14 to 19.

∎ Yuzhou “Oscar” Lin, a student at Thetford Academy, was named one of nine statewide winners in the Vermont State Mathematics Coalition’s 20th annual Talent Search. Lin was honored with fellow recipients at a dinner in South Burlington last month and is invited to attend the Governor’s Institute in Mathematical Sciences this summer at no charge.

Graduations

Kelsey L. Jordan of Lebanon graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, magna cum laude.

School Notes appears most Tuesdays. Email news and announcements to schoolnotes@vnews.com.

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School Notes: Goats Bring National Recognition to Reading Elementary School

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