OSEA Safety Blog

Poison Ivy Safety

Sunday, June 7, 2020 Greg Santo

Photograph showing poison ivy plantOld Boy Scout saying, “If it grows in threes, let it be” is a saying when you are camping or hiking, and is meant to warn to avoid any brush where you see leaves growing in a series of three. The photograph provided, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shows a poison ivy plant.

What is Poison ivy? For those who have experienced the weeping sores, constant itching, accumulation of puss, and further scratching … it can be a miserable existence.

As a young child growing up in an environment near the woods, creeks, and ponds of northern Virginia-- I had to endure cloth bandages soaked in ice water and the application of calamine lotion because of exposure to poison ivy. This is one of the more painful memories from my childhood. So, I developed a healthy respect to avoid the three-leafed plant.

According to the Mayo Clinic, poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to an oily resin called urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol). This oil is in the leaves, stems, and roots of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, and is prevalent in most of the country.

Wash your skin right away if you come into contact with this oil unless you know you're not sensitive to it. Washing off the oil may reduce your chances of getting a poison ivy rash. If you develop a rash, it can be very itchy and last for weeks.

You can treat mild cases of poison ivy rash at home with soothing lotions and cool baths. You may need prescription medication and antibiotics for a rash that's severe or widespread — especially if it's on your face or genitals.

If your occupation is such that you may come into contact with poison ivy, such as a cable or telephone line installer, construction worker, landscaper, farming, or firefighting you may be at risk. If you like to go fishing, hunting, camping, gardening; these recreational activities can also expose you to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.

Other potential exposures can come from your dog or other pet who may root around in brush and the oil could come in contact when you touch or pet your dog.

If you breathe in smoke from the burning of brush where poison ivy is present, that can present health issues where you may need to seek medical treatment from a physician. Other issues where medical treatment may be necessary are excessive oozing of puss from the rash area, the rash affects your eyes, mouth, or genitals, or if you develop a fever greater than 100 degrees.

To prevent exposure, learn to recognize what poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac look like. You should remove or avoid the plants, and if your occupation requires you to potentially have exposure wear long pants and boots. Consider a barrier cream for arms, and if you have to remove or handle brush, wear appropriate gloves. Wash outerwear, clean your boots (and laces), and clean tools with a soapy degreaser solution to dissolve the urushiol oil.

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