How to wash away poison ivy, oak and sumac!

Have you ever gotten an allergic reaction to one of these poisonous plants? Continue reading to find out how to never get it again.

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Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a noxious weed commonly found growing in home landscapes, along roadsides, in forests, and even in urban areas in North America. Its toxicity is based on an active irritant called urushiol, an oily resin contained in all parts of the plant. When urushiol comes into contact with any part of the skin or internal organs of a person, it can cause a rash . Pets are less likely to be troubled by poison ivy but are occasionally affected by it as well.

Below is a picture of poison ivy. Remember, it turns colors and looks different as it matures and even has buds on it. Click here to learn more about poison ivy.

Poison oak is not an oak but a low-growing deciduous shrub. Its stems and leaves contain urushiol, a natural oil that causes a severe skin rash any time of the year, even in the winter when the shrub has no leaves. The plant is native to north America and as such has significant wildlife value: Birds like robins like the berries, songbirds feed on its berries during fall migration, and other birds feed on the insects that live on poison oak. Furry pets are usually not affected by poison oak, with the exception of a dog nose or the underbelly where the coat is thin.

Below is a picture of poison oak, poison oak sometimes can look very similar to ivy. Remember, poison oak also turns colors and looks different as it matures, and also has little buds on it too. Click here to learn more about poison oak.

Poison sumac is a shrub or small tree that can grow as tall as 25 feet. It sports eye-catching red stems, along with medium-sized green leaves, which turn to a red-orange in the fall. Best planted in spring after the last frost, sumac grows at a moderate rate. Plus, the plant is native to North America, so it won’t upset the natural balance of flora. Poison sumac contains the same toxin, urushiol, that’s found in poison ivy and poison oak. While poison sumac affects humans, animals don’t seem to be bothered by it. Birds and other wildlife even eat the berries from poison sumac plants. However, pets still can carry the toxic resin on their coats if they come in contact with the plant, which transfer the oil to your skin when you come into contact with the pet.

Below is a picture of poison sumac. Remember, poison sumac also turns colors, changes the way it looks and has buds/berries on them. Click here to learn more about poison sumac.

What’s your story?

I am sure we all have stories of how we came in contact with a poisonous plant, so I will share mine. When I was younger we went on a short vacation to a friend’s farm. Back then one of my favorite things to do was to climb trees. There was an old silo covered in vines that I climbed up. (but the ladder was not covered in vines) And later went back down and continued to play with the rest of the kids. So the next day we went home and it wasn’t until that night when I felt and saw the effects. I woke up in the middle of the night and looked in the mirror because my face felt funny and to my surprise it was very swollen, both eyes were swelled shut, I could see out of one eye a little bit. And for some reason I just went to back to bed, I figured I would tell my parents in the morning. I guess I didn’t think it was a big deal. So early that morning I woke up my mom and she rushed me to the ER for treatment. They told us it was an allergic reaction to poison oak. I stayed in the hospital a couple days while they pumped me with medicine and then I went home after my swelling went down. Now that I am older and reminiscing I know I did not change my clothes, take a shower or even wash my hands after I got down the silo, even if I touched those vines I doubt I would’ve washed my hands anyways, I was a kid. This just shows how the poison can stay on surfaces for a long period of time from cross contamination, I know I wasn’t the first or only person who went up that silo. If you have any stories put them in the comment section, I would love to hear them!

So what’s the poison that’s toxic to us?

It’s called urshiol. The scientific name is toxicodendron. Urushiol is an oil contained within the sap of poison ivy, oak and sumac, and after injury to the plant, or late in the fall, the sap leaks to the surface of the plant, where under certain temperature and humidity conditions the urushiol becomes a blackish lacquer after being in contact with oxygen. Notice how it says “oil”? Have you ever tried to wash oil off of your hands? It takes a more aggressive wash to completely come off. And majority of the time most will still find oil on themselves since it wasn’t washed off good enough. There is a scientist, Jim Brauker, Ph.D who made a video showing you exactly how to wash off this poison to avoid the skin reaction. He also explains and shows you why it’s hard to wash off, he compares it to motor oil. This is a good video with a lot of good information.

If the video does not load, click here.

If you ever do get a reaction that doesn’t need medical attention you can try these natural remedies:

  • Wash Up If you know you’ve touched poison ivy, go immediately to the nearest sink and wash every affected area with cool water and soap. If you catch it quickly enough and get the oil off your skin, you may be able to stave off a rash, or at least, lessen the severity.
  • Aloe Vera is one of the best-known remedies for sunburns and other skin conditions. You can make your own soothing aloe vera gel from fresh aloe vera leaves to reduce itchiness and heal the rash.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar Like baking soda, apple cider vinegar can soothe a poison ivy rash by restoring skin balance. Also like baking soda, you can add it to a bath, or simply dip a cotton ball in a little apple cider vinegar and dab it on the rash.
  • Baking Soda Paste Baking soda is soothing to the skin, helps to restore pH balance, and helps to draw out toxins. You can put it in a bath, mentioned above or, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part water, and dab it on a poison ivy rash.
  • Jewelweed: You can find bottles of this plant online, which contains an essential oil that lowers many plant poison reactions. Witch hazel is used in a similar way to treat skin and might be more readily available than jewelweed.
  • EchinaceaEchinacea can be taken in supplement form or used as a tincture to lower histamine reactions. Mix one part echinacea (tincture form) with three parts water, then apply the mixture to the skin several times per day with a compress.
  • Bentonite clay: It’s easy to make a homemade anti-itch cream using this clay, which helps dry up blisters and reduces swelling. Apply a small amount to the affected area, let it dry until it forms flakes and then gently rinse with water.
  • Colloidal oatmeal (or regular oatmeal): Try soaking in a bath with colloidal oatmeal, which can soothe blisters. Oatmeal contains substances, including avenanthramides and phenols, that have anti-inflammatory properties and help relieve itchiness. (4) You can also use regular oatmeal to make a bath  if you can’t find colooidal oatmeal online or in drug store. (5)
  • Essential oils: Topically applying essential oils for allergies like geranium, rose, helichrysum and lavender can improve rashes by lowering inflammation. Simply add three drops of oil to a compress and apply to the area three times daily. If you have sensitive skin, you can mix three drops with a half teaspoon of coconut oil to further dilute it and reduce its strength.

Works cited:

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