What is Poison Ivy?
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are all toxic plants belonging to the plant family called Rhus. All three of these plants are similar in appearance, growth, and their affect on people. These three plants contain an oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is a colorless or slightly yellow oil that oozes from any cut or crushed part of the plant. Contact with the oil is what causes the allergic reaction in people.
These plants are easily identified by their leaves.
Poison Ivy: The leaves on poison ivy have three parts. The leaves are very shiny and range from 1/2 an inch to 2 inches long. Their flowers are greenish-white and are found in clusters on a long stem. The berries are white and glossy. In the fall the leaves change to a reddish orange hue. It is found as a vine in the East, Midwest, and the South. It is found as a shrub in the far Northern and the Western U.S., Canada, and around the Great Lakes region. The plant can grow up to ten feet tall and climbs trees, walls, fences, and trails along the ground.
Poison Oak: The leaves on poison oak are very similar to poison ivy. They are also found in three segments and are very shiny. Poison oak is sometimes found as a vine, but is usually in the form of a shrub. The leaves on poison oak are slightly larger than the leaves on poison ivy. The flowers and berries are yellow and waxy. The leaves turn a reddish orange hue in the fall.
Poison Sumac: Poison Sumac is a little different than poison ivy and oak. The leaves on poison sumac are about 12 inches long and are found in groups of 7-13 leaflets on a long red stem. Poison sumac also has berries that are white and glossy. The leaves turn a reddish orange hue in the fall.
What are the signs and symptoms of Poison Ivy?
The signs and symptoms of poison ivy can vary from mild to severe. Once the urushiol oil penetrates the skin, a reaction will usually appear in 12 to 48 hours as a line or streak of rashes. Redness and swelling of the skin begins between 24-72 hours after contact with the oil, often followed by blisters and severe itching. The blisters tend to crust and scale after a few days. It usually takes 10 to 14 days to effectively treat. In cases of severe reactions, it could take several weeks for the rash to clear up. For people with darker colored skin, small dark spots can remain even after the rash effectively treats.
Do the blisters cause the rash to spread?
No, the blisters do not spread the rash. The blisters from the poison ivy plant are the body’s natural allergic reaction to the urushiol antigen. Within 15 minutes of coming into contact with the urushiol, it binds to proteins in your skin. Scratching or oozing blister fluid cannot spread the antigen to other areas of the body or to other persons. New lesions that appear a few days after the primary lesions represent less sensitive areas or areas where less antigen was deposited, not spreading of the antigen.
Once bound to cell membranes, urushiol is virtually impossible to wash off and attached to cell membranes, it becomes a “warning flag” that attracts patrolling T-cells and initiates a full-blown immune response.
Should I break the blisters?
Yes. Once the blister is broken, apply the All Stop™ healing spray to the area and then loosely cover with a sterile bandage. In severe cases, contact your doctor.
Do not scratch at the area. You could possibly contaminate the open sores with bacteria from underneath your fingernails. This could cause a serious infection.
Do I need to touch the plant to catch Poison Ivy?
NO! You can become contaminated with the urushiol oil by direct, indirect, and airborne particles. If you come into contact with a pet that has been rubbing against the plant, yard tools that have been against the plant, work gloves that have not been cleaned and still have the oil on them, or if you come into direct contact with another person who has the urushiol oil on them, you can become contaminated. It is also possible to have allergic reactions if the plants are being burned in your area. The oil becomes airborne and can settle into your lungs. This can cause severe allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Severe reactions may require hospitalization.
When is Poison Ivy Contagious?
The plants, including the roots are contagious year round. The pollen is the only part of the plant that is not contagious. Although most reactions occur in the spring and summer, there are many reactions in the fall and winter because people will burn the branches or use the brightly colored vines as wreathes and holiday decorations.
Make sure that you thoroughly wash everything that has come into contact with the poison ivy. The urushiol oil can remain active for months and even years under the right environmental conditions.
What about immunity?
Approximately 85 % of people that come into contact with poison ivy will have an allergic reaction to it. Children between the ages of 8 to 16 are infected more than other age groups. Sensitivity to the urushiol can decreases as people age, however, one should not assume that because they are an adult that they will not catch poison ivy. People with fair skin are more susceptible than others.
Is it contagious?
Once you have the rash, the urushiol oil has been absorbed into your skin and you can’t spread it to others or elsewhere on yourself. If you have blisters filled with liquid, the liquid is mostly water and will not spread to other parts of your body, even if the blister breaks.
Are there 2 types of poison ivy?
Yes there are two different types of poison ivy. There is the climbing variety (toxicodendron radicans) and the non-climbing (toxicodendron rydbergii) or Rydberg’s poison ivy. The two different types of poison ivy interbreed to look very similar and they sometimes grow in the same places.
How long will a poison oak or poison ivy rash last?
Mild cases of poison oak or poison ivy can last five to 12 days. More severe cases can last 30 days or longer.
Are dead poison oak or poison ivy plants safe to touch?
No, the urushiol oil remains toxic and does not evaporate. All parts of living or dead poison oak, poison ivy, including the roots, contain the urushiol oil.
Can I get the rash from my pets?
Yes, since animals’ fur protects their skin from the poison oil, they don’t develop a rash. The oil will remain on their fur and may contaminate you when you touch them. Again, removal of the urushiol oil from your pet with an effective cleanser like the PetsBestRx Rejuvenating Body Wash and Skin Conditioner will help avoid contaminating you and your family with an unwanted and unexpected rash.
Does bleach remove the urushiol oil or help effectively treat the rash?
No. Bleach may appear to be a quick fix to a poison oak or poison ivy rash. However, bleach removes the top layer(s) of your skin and can cause your skin to crack and become more irritated. This process can weaken your skin and the rash may become worse, or it could lead to an infection.