Poison Ivy

Things I Don’t Like: Poison Ivy

I recently got back from a camping trip, and I noticed that the outer edges of my campground was surrounded by poison ivy.  Having lived in Japan for the last four years, I hadn’t really seen the stuff in a while, but I knew how to identify it, and I made it a point not to go near it.  Now that I’ve been back from my trip for a few days, I’m starting to get little spots of the rash popping up.  It’s not nearly as bad as I’ve had it in the past, but it still sucks.

As a child, one of my favorite things to do was run around in the woods that surrounded my grandpa’s property in Brown County, Indiana.  It was during that time that I discovered I was severely allergic to poison ivy.  More than once, I’ve had large sections of my body covered in the blistering oozy rashes.  I have plenty of experience suffering through it, so here’s my guide to poison ivy (not to be confused with Pamela Isley).

What does it look like?

Poison ivy can be a creeping or climbing vine, or it can grow as a kind of shrub.  The leaf pattern is quite distinctive and easy to identify: three leaves with the middle one hanging down a bit on a longer section of stem.  It’s really pretty, but don’t freaking touch it, or you’ll be covered in a horrible rash.  Some people believe that poison ivy has three leaves and poison oak has five.  Most of the time, poison oak only has three leaves, though.

How does it work?

Poison Ivy
It looks like this. Don’t touch it.

Poison ivy produces an oily allergen called urushiol.  This oil stays on the leaves, the vine, and all other parts of the plant, and even if the plant itself has died or shed its leaves, the oil will still be on it and can still affect you.  Not only that, but it can rub off on animals or objects.  I once got it from moving some lumber that had been stacked near poison ivy leaves.  The urushiol can even become airborne in the smoke produced from burning poison ivy.  My Mamaw, who is also severely allergic, once burned a patch of poison ivy and ended up getting a really bad rash even though she was careful not to ever touch it.

Contrary to what you may have heard, poison ivy rashes are not contagious, and scratching doesn’t make them spread; the rash spreads on its own after exposure, depending on time and severity of the exposure.  Some people are less likely to break out in a rash, but that does not necessarily mean that they are immune.

Dammit!  I touched poison ivy!  Now what?

Virginia Creeper
This is not poisonous at all, but a lot of people think it’s poison oak. This is actually Virginia creeper.

The best way to treat poison ivy is to stay the hell away from it.  If you have come in contact with it, whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes, scratch your nose, or touch your naughty bits.  Trust me: you’ll regret it.  You can sometimes get rid of the urushiol by washing it off with soap and water or applying rubbing alcohol before it absorbs into your skin.

The rash itself may appear within a few hours, or it may take a few days, depending on the exposure and your body’s natural immune response.  Once you’ve got it, try to avoid scratching the rash or breaking the blisters.  My Oma used to make me take hot showers when I had a bad poison ivy rash, and that would usually help with the itching for a few hours.  Calamine lotion is another common treatment, but I personally hate being sticky with calamine lotion just as much as I hate being itchy from the rash.

After a few days, the rash should “dry up”.  If you’ve scratched the rash in the earlier outbreak, it will become scabby.  Otherwise, the blisters will go away, and the rash will turn into a dry patch, which will soon heal completely.

If you have a very severe outbreak of poison ivy that covers large portions of your body, or important portions of your body (i.e. your face and/or genitals) go get medical attention.

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and I hope these tips help you to enjoy your outdoor experiences as well.  Leave a comment and regale me with your camping stories and poison ivy tales.

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8 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Like: Poison Ivy

  1. (When I saw this post show up in my reader, I saw the picture first. In the split second before I could process any words, my brain screamed POISON!!!! STAY AWAY!!!!)

    I am just now getting over a bad bout of poison ivy. I spent a week at my aunt’s vacation house, and she is not allergic to poison ivy. SO SHE DOESN’T KNOW THAT SHE HAS IT IN HER YARD!!!

    1. hrm….for some reason this posted before I finished ranting…anyway…

      We went to the beach and came back after sunset. She wants us to rinse off in a shower outside so we don’t track sand all over the house, but I didn’t know where the lights were so we had to shower in the dark. Because it was dark, I didn’t see that I set my towel down IN A PATCH OF POISON IVY!!! I then used that towel to dry myself off for the rest of the week. And now I have poison ivy everywhere! (I blame my husband for this because when we were at the beach, I kept saying to him, hey, it’s getting dark, let’s go. And he made fun of me for being lame.)

      1. Yuck! That’s awful! I’m pretty sure I got it this time from petting dogs who had it on their fur. It wasn’t very bad this time around, and it’s mostly around my wrists and ankles.

  2. I have never had poison ivy. This probably has something to do with hating camping (or not really running around off the beaten path in the woods).

    However, I remember going to visit one of my Nonny’s friends as a kid, and she had poison ivy all over her nether regions from squatting in some while camping. She had to pee in the night and didn’t know that she was squatting in it. I remember being HORRIFIED at the thought of having poison ivy DOWN THERE. I’m actually squirming right now just thinking about it.

    1. Actually (because I became obsessed with poison ivy and now to get rid of it after I realized we had it in our back yard) poison ivy is most likely to grow just at the edge of the forest and not deep in the woods. So if you run around off the beaten path, you’ll probably be ok. You could just be not allergic to it or you stay firmly on the path and not towards the edge of the path.

      I’m squirming too now. Poor Nonny’s friend.

  3. I’ve been needing to read this post! I need to bookmark it for future reference.

    I’ve never suffered from poison ivy or poison oak exposure, but in the last few years I’ve grown increasingly more outdoorsy, so I need to learn how to avoid these poisonous leaves. Your pictures are extremely helpful, so thanks!

    1. Great! That’s the main reason I wrote this. I get poison ivy so easily, so I’ve had to figure it all out on my own. If I can help others enjoy the out-of-doors, then this was worth writing! 🙂

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