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.
(This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)
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.
Now that you know what it looks like, it's time to discuss how you can avoid getting a poison ivy rash.
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?