July 20, 2013

Tips for treating poison ivy

With summer upon us, parents are itching to ask about poison ivy, and I certainly want to leave no leaf unturned when it comes to providing information on this common problem.

First the motto: “Leaves of three, let them be.” It’s quite true. Especially the “let them be” part: It is only when poison ivy’s leaves, roots, stems or twigs are damaged or torn that the oil from this plant is released. Poison ivy oil causes an allergic reaction in 70 percent of the population, usually within four hours to four days of exposure. As most of us know, red, itchy patches or blisters appear wherever the oil has touched the skin.

Thus, the name of the game is to wash your child thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you suspect that they have been exposed to poison ivy. A shower or hosing-down is far better than a washcloth, which can spread those oils further onto your child’s body.

And don’t just wash your child. Wash any clothes, shoes, toys and garden tools that have been exposed — even the towel used after your child’s shower. Unless you wash everything, the poison ivy oil can still make contact with your child and even you. In addition, the family pet might be carrying the oil home from the woods, so if it’s been out and about in the woods during the day, it might need to be hosed down as well.

Once the oil has been removed, your child is no longer contagious. Even if blisters with fluid form, those blisters do not contain the oil, and thus are not contagious — even if they look like they should be. Scratching will not make the rash spread, but it can lead to infection.

Poison ivy treatment is directed at helping reduce the rash’s itch and ease the suffering, while allowing the allergic reaction to diminish and eventually stop. Cool compresses with drying agents such as calamine lotion, brown laundry soap or oatmeal baths will sooth the itch.

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