Treatment For Poison Ivy, Oak, & Sumac With Basic First Aid
Do you know what poison ivy is? Have you ever had an especially intense itch? Of course you have, don’t lie. Think about how crazy it drove you, and how you wanted nothing more than to make it stop. Remember how awesome it felt to scratch that itch and finally get relief?
Now, imagine getting that same itch, multiplying its intensity by ten, and having to deal with it for two straight weeks with only the tiniest bit of relief. If you can imagine that, then you’ll have a good sense of how poison ivy, oak, and sumac work.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of getting into one of these plants, then you already know the misery that follows. Worse yet is when you get it while you’re on a long ride or while on a camping trip. Here’s how you can make the best out of the situation with basic first aid.
What Is Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac?
All three are plants that produce the toxic oil called urushiol (u-rush-iol) as a means of protection from potential predators. When these toxins come into contact with your skin, they can cause severe itching, rashes, and blisters.
Poison Ivy is a vine-like plant that has a red stem with three leaves. It is located throughout most of the lower 48 and is often found along rivers and other damp, wooded areas.
Poison Oak is a shrub-like plant that also has three leaves. It is located in the western part of the United States and is found mostly in forests and woodlands.
Poison Sumac is a woody shrub that can have up to 13 leaves arranged in pairs. It is very prominent up and down the Mississippi River.
Symptoms of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
- In most instances, the itching will be fairly intense. This is the most common symptom of these plants, and is usually the clearest indicator that you’ve come into contact with one of them.
- A red, bumpy rash will most likely form on the affected area(s). The rash will vary in size depending on the amount of exposure to the toxin.
- Blisters. Some bumps in the rash will eventually form blisters that will burst and leak fluid.
First Aid Treatment For Poison Ivy
There’s no treatment for shortening the time of the infection. It will have to run its course, which typically takes one to two weeks for the symptoms to completely disappear. But while you can’t speed up recovery, there are steps you can take to prevent spreading of the toxin and help alleviate some of the symptoms.
There are two different categories of first aid treatment: Immediate (as soon as you discover the first symptom) and Later (once you’re back home).
- Wash the infected area with soap and water as soon as possible. The oil from any of these plants will remain on the surface of whatever it touches and can be spread to other parts of the body or other people. That’s why it’s very important that you at least wash the infected area as soon as possible. An even safer step is to wash your entire body.
- Wash your clothing. The oil can also spread via any clothing it touches. If possible, wash your clothes, also. If it’s not possible at the moment, then prevent contact with your clothes as much as possible.
- Stay cool and dry. Sweating and increased body heat can further intensify the itching. It’s best to not exert yourself too much when first infected.
- Wash your contaminated clothing. If you haven’t already, wash any clothes that may have contacted the plant, including boots, gloves, etc.
- Avoid topical creams. Creams such as antihistamines and antibiotics can actually make skin more sensitive and thus more susceptible to prolonged itching.
- Apply calamine lotion. Instead of creams, use calamine lotion to help ease the itching and soothe the rash. Apply it daily at regular intervals throughout the entire duration of the infection.
- Seek medical assistance, if needed. Some people have severe reactions to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. If the itch is too intense, or you have trouble sleeping, then get medical attention as soon as possible.
When you go down in the woods, you’re going to be more concerned about your bike, then your gear, then if anybody saw you. Make sure to take a second look at whatever you just went down in. If it’s Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac, make sure you get your gear washed off immediately to avoid accidental contact.
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