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Health & Wellness

Poison Ivy: An Itchy Situation

The weather is warming up, that means more time outside soaking up the sun and tidying up our yards. It also means more exposure to poison ivy. Learn how to maximize your outdoor fun while minimizing your poison ivy risk.

 Poison Ivy

Most Missourians have probably heard of at least three "poison" plants to watch out for: poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poison oak (Toxicodendron toxocarium) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). However, only poison ivy is common in Missouri. Poison oak is rare, and poison sumac has never been recorded in the state. [Source: Missouri Department of Conservation]

The "poison," or substance that causes the allergic reaction, is an oily resin called urushiol. It only takes a small amount of the resin to cause a reaction. Urushiol can be transferred to the skin by directly touching the plant or indirectly by coming in contact with something that has touched the plant. [Source: Health and Wellness Resource Center*]

Contrary to popular belief, scratching a poison ivy rash does not cause the rash to spread. A poison ivy rash can take 24 to 48 hours to completely develop, this makes it seem as though the rash is "spreading." While scratching doesn't spread the rash it can cause the skin to become infected. So mom's admonishment to "Stop scratching!" still holds weight. A skin infection on top of a poison ivy rash is only adding insult to injury and will do nothing to speed along your recovery.

Symptoms

Symptoms of exposure to poison ivy:

Prevention

Prevention is the best medicine. The following steps should minimize your exposure to poison ivy.

Treatment

If, despite your best precautions, you still find yourself with a rash the following treatments can help to ease your discomfort:

As cathartic as it may be, it's not always necessary to wage war on poison ivy plants. This is especially true if the plant grows where it won't bother anyone. Poison ivy causes many of us discomfort, but it also has some merits. Many birds including warblers, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and vireos eat poison ivy berries. Rabbits, deer, black bear, and muskrats and other animals eat the fruit, stems, and leaves. [Source: Missouri Department of Conservation]

For further research on poison ivy, take advantage of any of these reputable sources: print resources in the Library, Health and Wellness Resource Center*, MedLine Plus, or contact your healthcare provider.


* Library card required for use outside the Library

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