All About Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac on their own do not hurt you. It is your body’s own reaction to the Urushiol oil found in the plant that causes the aggravating itch and painful blisters. Urushiol (ooh-roo-she-all) oil is found in the stem, roots, and leaves of Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac plants. When you come into contact with this oil, it easily penetrates your skin, causing an allergic reaction to occur. The stronger your immune system is, the worse this reaction will be. Symptoms include:
About Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy grows throughout much of North America, but rarely grows at altitudes above 5,000 feet.
It can grow as a shrub up to 4 feet tall, as groundcover or as a climbing vine.
The leaves are a compound of 3 smooth, almond-shaped leaflets. The colors of the leaves range from light green to dark green, and turning red in the fall. The berries are a grayish white color and a favorite food of many birds.
About Poison Oak
There are two main types of Poison Oak – Western (Pacific) & Atlantic.
Western Poison Oak is only found on the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada. It can grow as a dense shrub or a climbing vine. Like Poison Ivy, Western Poison Oak leaves are made up of 3 leaflets, however, these leaflets tend to have scalloped edges and often resemble the leaves of an oak tree. The colors of these leaves range from light green to yellow-green to bright red, depending on the season. White flowers will also form in the spring and turn into white or tan berries as they develop. It is common that in the winter, Poison Oak plants will loose their leaves and only berries will remain. It is important to understand that even without the leaves, the Urushiol oil is present.
Atlantic Poison Oak is found in forests, thickets and dry, sandy fields, usually throughout the Southeastern United States westward to Texas and Oklahoma.
It can grow as an erect shrub up to 3 feet tall.
The leaves are also a compound of 3 leaflets, which are usually hairy and often resemble white oak leaves.
The colors of the leaves range from green to yellow or orange in the fall. The berries are usually yellowish or greenish in hue.
About Poison Sumac
Poison Sumac grows exclusively in very wet or flooded soil, usually in swamps or bogs in the Eastern United States and in Canada.
Poison Sumac is a woody shrub that grows about 4 feet tall.
Unlike the 3-leafed appearance of Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, Poison Sumac leaves may contain 7-13 leaflets on each branch.
The stems from which the leaflets grow are always red and the berries are white or gray.
Are Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak contagious?
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac cannot be spread simply by coming into contact with a person who has it; however, if that person has urushiol oil (the chemical that causes the reaction) on their skin, you can be affected. You can also catch it by touching items that have touched the actual plant. This includes clothing, tools, and even pets. Basically, its the urushiol oil that causes the irritation, not the resulting symptoms (rash, irritation, sores, etc.).
Does scratching cause the rash to spread?
No, scratching the rash will not cause it to spread, although it may cause a secondary infection. This infection may cause your skin to appear as if the rash is spreading, but this is actually because of a delayed reaction to the initial infections. In other words, the reaction just occurs more slowly on some parts of the body than it does in other parts.
Does breaking the blisters cause the rash to spread?
No, breaking the blisters will not cause the rash to spread because the fluid found within the blisters does not contain urushiol oil. It is important to understand that breaking the blisters can lead to infection, if the proper precautions are not taken. You should only break the blisters if you are using a product that is formulated to help prevent infection, like All Stop Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Healing Gel.
“Leaves of Three, Let Them Be”
This little reminder is helpful if you are dealing with Poison Ivy or Poison Oak, but not Poison Sumac since Poison Sumac has 7-13 leaves per branch.
Another misconception is that dead Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac plants are safe. The fact is that the non oxidized urushiol oil can remain active and contagious for many, many years. Another common mistake the belief that eating these plants will increase your immunity to them. The truth is that this can cause severe allergic reactions, and even death.