How to identify poison ivy and ways to help prevent getting a rash if you come in contact with it. Photos of real poison ivy plants included!
I spent the better part of my childhood running around in the woods.
Not that I was raised by a pack of wolves or anything (although in my teenage years I may have thought otherwise). Just your normal climbing trees. Fishing. Camping. You name it.
My brother used to get poison ivy all the time. But I managed to stay poison ivy free.
Of course, I used to sort of brag about being far superior to my brother. Like I was above all that silly poison ivy stuff and all that.
Then all of a sudden, when we moved into this house ten years ago, I started to be affected by it. Oh, no!
The first year it was just a few tiny pin sized spots on my arm. I didn't even associate it with poison ivy, just assumed I was mildly irritated by something.
The next year it was a whole 'nother story!
One day I casually weeded a flower bed out by the road. I remember seeing a questionable plant, but I was immune to that stuff, so I didn't give it its due respect. Big mistake.
Bada bing, bada boom. A few days latter I noticed the tiny raised spots. Then they started itching. I obliged them.
Over the next few days it just got worse and worse. The tiny spots turned into raging blisters and next thing I knew I had blisters on top of blisters on top of blisters.
My reign as Little Miss Immune To Poison Ivy was over.
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The story ends with me having to go to the doctor and get some steroids and a drying agent (Domeboro Astringent Powder, sold at the pharmacy) to finally kick it out of my system. This was after weeks of me trying to treat it myself and finally coming to the realization that my arm might just fall off if I didn't seek some professional help.
Why now and not when I was a kid? Who knows?
There are different theories why some people wait until later in life to be affected. Maybe I had been immune and I lost my immunity. Maybe I just had to have a lot of exposure for it to pop out. Maybe it was the number of years between exposures.
I mean, it's been at least 25 years since I've climbed a tree.
Since the Summer Of The Itch, there are some things I have learned about the dreaded poison ivy.
Probably the 1st thing you need to know about poison ivy is how to identify the plant.
How To Identify Poison Ivy:
- Leaves of three, let it be. It rhymes. It works.
- Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there are other plants with three leaves also that are perfectly harmless. If you just go with that rhyme, you are missing out on our other three leaved friends. So read on.
- The middle leaf is normally on a longer stem than the other two.
- The outer two resemble mittens.
- The veins that run across the leaf are non-symmetrical (not directly across from each other).
- The sets of leaves on a vine are non-symmetrical (not directly across from each other). In the photo below you can see a set of three leaves go to the right and then above it a set of three leaves go to the left and so on - they do not meet in the middle.
- The leaves have pointed ends, not round.
How To Prevent Poison Ivy:
- Know what poison ivy looks like. You've got that covered!
- Always wear gloves when weeding.
- Wear long clothing covering your legs and arms. Better to be a little warm, than walk away with a case of poison ivy rash on your ankles.
- Be very careful when taking off your gloves. I sort of peel them off like a doctor does, making sure not to touch my wrists when taking off the opposite hand's glove.
- As soon as you come in from weeding, run cold water over your arms from the elbows to your fingertips. Never use hot water, always use cold water which will keep your pores closed and slow the absorption of the oil if it is present.
- As a preventative, after rinsing with the cold water, follow up with washing your entire arms with poison ivy soap using COLD water again. I used to recommend Burt's Bees' Poison Ivy Soap, but they have stopped manufacturing that (no idea why because that was great stuff). Grandma's Poison Ivy And Oak Bar is a very good alternative. Regular old soap is not enough.
- After doing this routine, where I assume I may have come in contact with poison ivy while weeding, I have not had any more poison ivy rashes. Better to take an extra minute to thoroughly wash up rather than spend the next month itching and scratching.
So let's say you thought you had stayed away from the poison ivy, but you still ended up with a case of poison ivy rash, here's how to treat it.
How To Treat Poison Ivy:
- If you think you've been exposed to poison ivy, wash all areas of your body with cold water and a poison ivy soap, Fell Naptha or Dawn dish soap. A good poison ivy soap like Grandma's Poison Ivy And Oak Bar is the 1st choice, but if you don't have it on hand try one of the other soaps.
- The quicker you get the urushiol oil off your skin the better, so if you are certain you have been in contact with poison ivy do not delay in rinsing it off.
- Launder all clothing that may have come in contact with the poison ivy in a load by itself to avoid re-exposing yourself to the urushiol oil in the future.
- Use rubbing-alcohol to clean off all pruning shears or other tools that you were using as the oil can stick to them. And the last thing you want is to pick up your pruning shears two months from now and start a whole new batch of poison ivy rash on your hands.
- The rash doesn't normally show up for 12-72 hours AFTER contact with the oil. It will start as little pin prick size blisters and get larger from there.
- Use Domeboro Astringent Powder, sold at the pharmacy or Amazon to soak or make a cold compress for your rash. It will dry up the rash, reduce itching and calm the inflammation.
- Antihistamines may relieve some of the itching, but please consult a doctor if you don't normally take them.
- The tips I am giving you are for your run of the mill case of poison ivy. If your rash gets totally out of control, is in your eyes or mouth, covers a large part of your body or God forbid, you ingested some poison ivy, please go to the nearest Emergency Room.
BTW, are you wondering how I got those cool photos with the black background?
Yes, I cut a piece of poison ivy and placed it on my chalkboard tray. Another case of not giving poison ivy its due respect. It's been two days since I took those photos, so I think I'm in the clear on this case of stupidity.
Is poison ivy a problem for you? Or can you roll around in it naked and come out OK?
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You're never really "immune" to poison ivy. It's a sensitizing agent, and each time you come across it your immune system gets more and more adept at recognizing it until one day, your threshold has been crossed and your body now reacts to it. And always will.
Thank you for the information you've provided. I now feel knowledgeable to identify this treacherous plant.
I have been very sensitive to Poison Ivy my entire life. Almost hospitalized 2X......injected with the vaccine for poison ivy which the 2nd year gave me the worse case ever! Now I just stay away from poison ivy, poison sumac and anything else that looks suspicious when I see it!
Thank you so much for this post, Pam! I've never had poison ivy, but we have a bunch of three-leaved plants growing on one side of our house that I was told were poison ivy. Then someone told me that they weren't because p. ivy has hairy stems. ?? Anyway, I am now going to go look at them--not touch them --to see if after reading your descriptions they are or not. If they are, not sure what I will do. I don't use chemicals to kill weeds or any kind of toxic substances in my yard because I have a dog, cats and grandchildren who play there. SO, I suppose I could try to dig it out, carefully, with a mask and a haz-mat suit. I use straight white vinegar to kill weeds in the cracks of my driveway and it works great. Maybe it would work on the p. ivy, too.
Hope the rest of the summer and fall find you poison ivy-free, Pam, and thanks for this comprehensive information re: P. Ivy --how to identify and treat if infected.
Thanks so much for this advice, I've had the worst experience with poison ivy since two years ago ???
I have it for the second year in a row, or at least I think I do. Se we have chainlink fences in our neighborhood and our neighbors DO NOt take care of their yards, there must be a dozen different vines, bushes and trees all growing on the fence line and into our yard. I have not seen anything that looks like poison ivy but it's hard to tell one plant from the other because they are all intertwined. I would love to kill off just the bad stuff and not everything, any suggestions? I know whatever I do kill will just lay dead in their yard forever and ever.
I don't remember reading this back in 2014 or 15, so am glad you re-posted the link here! And those are great photos!! Hope your son's surgery went OK. I am thinking of both fo you.
Thank you so much for this post. I never really knew what it was like up close and I used to get it so bad. I would wear gardening gloves and get it and my doctor told me to get the rubber ones as when the material gloves get wet, it still can seep in. And it did. I even got it in the winter!!!! How I don't know but it happened and again my same doctor said it doesn't die, the oil or powder is still active during the cold months. So I must have pulled it thinking it was a weed. But having this pictures up close helped, I knew leaves of 3 but like you said there are other plants like that too Great post, thanks again.
Try::: Green tomatoes. My Grandma Watson and I recommend this. Just slice off a small piece and use it. Next time use the tomato that had the slice cut off from. Next cut that piece off and use tomato again. Keep going until tomato is gone. May sting if you have dug it open. Doesn't smell after dry and if you remove seeds it is almost transparent. Tried and true. I think it is the acid. The green tomato has to be rolled around to create juice. Slightly ripe gives more juice than totally green but make sure it is still considered a green tomato.
I have never hear of that remedy before!!! Love it!
I love the green tomato advice. I’ll try that. I look at poison ivy, oak or sumacs and I get it. I was even desperate for a cure and someone told me to eat a leaf! MISTAKE! Yes the doctor laughed at me!
I spot it fast but unfortunately living in the hills of Kentucky even carrying in fire wood gets me. Thanks for the extra advice.
Thank you for the beautiful photos & information I created poison ivy ID cards that I sell on etsy to help others identify the plant.
Please remind people to NEVER burn poison ivy.
Poison ivy oils can be carried through the air and infect the airways of people in the surrounding areas by miles. Breathing the fumes of burning poison ivy can have serious health consequences (rash, fever, painful inflammation, painful breathing, swelling of throat and lungs) and lead to death in severe cases if left untreated. (outdoorjoes.com)