Poisonous Plants: Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Spring showers have brought May flowers, along with a variety of greenery, including poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Be on the lookout for potential problems when there is contact with the plant’s sap oil, urushiol. Whenever the leaf or other parts of the plant are bruised, damaged, or burned, the oil can cause an allergic reaction if it comes into contact with the skin and/or lungs.
Contact dermatitis occurs when the oil comes into contact with the skin. Symptoms can include:
· Red rash (usually does not start until 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the oil)
· Bumps, streaks, or blisters (the fluid is not contagious)
Inhaling the smoke of these burning plants can cause lung irritation and difficulty breathing.
After any potential skin exposure,
· Remove all your clothing and place them directly into the washing machine. You don’t want to touch them again after bathing
· Wash your skin with a degreasing soap (such as dish soap), poisonous plant wash, or alcohol and use lots of water. Scrub your nails with a brush
If a rash develops,
· Apply cool wet compresses and calamine lotion
· Take oatmeal baths
· Anti-histamines can help with the itching, but know that some may make you sleepy
· Over-the-counter steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, can help to control the itch and blistering. For those who are known to be sensitive to the poisonous plants, it is beneficial to keep steroid cream on hand and apply at the first sign of a rash.
Steroid creams should only be used on children when ordered by their provider.
· If the rash is severe or develops on the face or genitals, seek medical attention
Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you are having a severe reaction, such as difficulty breathing or your eyes are closed shut from swelling, or if you have had a severe reaction in the past. Emergent medical care should also be obtained if the poisonous fumes are inhaled.
To prevent exposure:
· Wear long sleeves, pants, boots (or closed shoes and socks), and gloves to limit the amount of skin contact. Know that urushiol can pass through rubber and latex gloves but not vinyl
· After use, clean tools with alcohol or soap and water. The oils can remain active on the surface of objects up to 5 years. The oils can also be carried on your shoes, pets, and tools
· Do not burn plants or brush piles that may contain poison ivy, oak, or sumac
· Barrier skin creams, such as lotion containing bentoquatum, may offer some protection
It is important to be able to identify the problematic plants. Their appearances can vary based on the season and the species type. For photos and more information, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/default.html