Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Remove or Treat Poison Ivy

How to treat poison ivy?

There's no quick cure.  Poison ivy can be frustrating and painful. Warmer winters have caused poison ivy to thrive.

Clearing out overgrown parts of our new garden meant regular contact with these noxious vines.  It only takes a moment to trigger a fortnight of discomfort.

Unfortunately, humans don't develop immunity to poison ivy through repeated exposure--it worsens each time.  After countless episodes with the disease, symptoms escalate.  There's a tipping point where the dermis has had enough.  It's then time to consider treatment, but first identify the source.

Leaves of three, let it be!  Recognition avoids repetition.  Poison ivy grows on a thickening vine.  Its distinctive triple notched leaves protrude on thin branches from a central creeper.  The insidious plant appears everywhere--in cultivated gardens, meadows and along the forest floor.  The vine  has a greenish white or pink glow topped with tiny but piercing thorns.  There are few natural deterrents and chemical treatments are toxic with varying degrees of success.  Heavy gloves and long sleeves help, as does a quick shower, but as Jesse learned, the toxic oil remains in discarded clothing on the way to the washing machine.

You don't have to leave the house--petting Fido after he romps in the garden can transfer pernicious oil, causing skin to erupt.

DON'T SCRATCH!  At least try not too.  It'll make the rash far uglier.

Early detection helps.  The initial bumps seem like mosquito bites--that just won't go away. By the time the true culprit is identified, the outbreak often spreads to secondary regions.

The initial bumps seem like mosquito bites--that just won't go away. By the time the true culprit is identified, the outbreak often spreads to secondary regions.

There's number of home remedies.  As soon as exposure occurs, scrubbing up with an oil-free soap like Fels Naptha or Sunlight may remove urishiol--the irritant oil emitted from the plant.  If the skin's already erupted, soften the soap to soften in water to a paste smoothing the mixture over the sore patch for several minutes in order to draw out the toxic oil. 

For relief, soaking in oatmeal is soothing, but the oil remains in the skin, prolonging the duration of the outbreak. It's also onerous work cleaning the bathtub afterwards.

Drugstore remedies abound--the most effective is Tecnu which removes the oil even after the outbreak spreads, and offers some relief from the itch.  I carry a bottle in my glove box.  I've tried them all--Ivy Rest, Calamine, Benadryl.  Tecnu works best, but be sure to follow directions.  The solution draws the toxic oil from the skin, so it must stay in place for a few minutes, then washed off to remove the contaminant.  Repeat for the best result.

When these techniques fail to bring relief, call your dermatologist.  Steroid based treatment is always an option but there's risk involved, including immune suppression from repeated treatment.  It's serious business.

When in the yard--be careful. 

This unremarkable emerald vine can cause at least ten days of tingling trouble.

More Articles of Interest:

Winter Weeds and Good Deeds --Global Warming and Invasive Species

Hey! Look What Survived the Winter in My Garden!