Leaves of Three…

Diane Pense, RN, of MediServe walk-in urgent care clinic, shared her tips for coping with poison ivy.

First of all, make sure you can recognize it! The photo here shows the famous leaves of three, as in the old mnemonic, “Leaves of three, let them be.” It’s good advice, because these fresh green leaves contain urushiol, a resin that causes painful, itchy rashes in about 85% of people.

Whenever you’re outside and off the beaten path, keep an eye out for poison ivy. Here in Northwest Arkansas, you’re most likely to see Eastern Poison Ivy. Click through that link to find more detail on how to identify the plant, or try PoisonIvy.org’s visual quiz with your kids. It’s important that the whole family can identify this unpleasant plant.

If you’re heading out to the woods or attacking that overgrown backyard shrubbery, wear long pants, socks, boots, gloves, and a long sleeved shirt. This will help protect you from the oil in the ivy. If you think you’ve gotten into the stuff, take precautions:

  1. Clean any part of your skin that has been exposed to the poison ivy with rubbing alcohol (unless you’re allergic to it).
  2. Next, rinse the area thoroughly with water only. Don’t use soap, because soap can actually spread the oils of the poison ivy plant.
  3. Now take a shower with soap and water.
  4. Finally, put on gloves and rub down everything you had with you (your gardening tools, your hiking boots, clothes — everything!) with rubbing alcohol.

Don’t skimp on cleaning your gear. Urushiol can stay potent on objects for years. Putting away an infected blanket without cleaning it thoroughly could lead to a horrible experience when you take that blanket camping next fall.

A final piece of advice: don’t rub your eyes. You could touch poison ivy and feel nothing on the relatively tough skin of hands, but suffer lots of painful swelling and itching if you introduce some of the urushiol into the delicate tissues of your eyes.

What if you get a rash in spite of being careful? A baking soda bath followed by calamine lotion may help. Over the counter antihistamines can also reduce itching and help you sleep.

If you have a widespread rash with blisters or the rash spreads into delicate areas like your eyes or genitals, make an appointment with your doctor or visit MediServe Walk-In Clinic. There are treatments that can clear the rash up faster than home remedies.