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Poison ivy: Dealing with the rash and itch

Remember, three is the number to keep in mind.
Remember, three is the number to keep in mind.
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Count ‘em up: 1, 2, 3 ... Three, you see, is the number to keep in mind as the sun warms us up, and we head outdoors to commune with nature, be it hiking or simply pulling weeds. That’s because you never know where poison ivy—and each of its leaves’ three leaflets—might be lurking.

And it’s not just the leaves and their oily resin urushiol you have to worry about. The stuff is also found on the stems and roots, so be very aware and beware. Around here—in the Midwest and south, too--be on the lookout for a vine. If you live up north in or in the west, though, poison ivy grows as a shrub. Oh, and if it’s spring, look for yellow-green flowers; in the fall, you may very well see green berries turning an off-white.

Bottom line: Keep your eyes peeled. Since about 50% of us are allergic to poison ivy’s poison, you may very well be one of the unlucky ones who starts itching and scratching. In that case, here are some recommendations straight from dermatologists:

  1. Wash the affected area with warm, soapy water right away—clothing, too, and anything else that may have the oil on it, such as your shoes, gardening tools, even a pet.
  2. Apply rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on the affected area right away; indeed, hikers often carry rubbing alcohol with them.
  3. Don’t scratch the rash, as it risks an infection.
  4. For some relief, soak in a lukewarm bath using colloidal oatmeal from your local pharmacy. Short, cool showers can help, too.
  5. Cover the site with a clean washcloth dipped in cold water and wrung out well.
  6. Apply that old standby: calamine lotion.
  7. Consider taking an antihistamine.

There are also lots of home-spun remedies out there that have gained traction in soothing the itchy rash, so go ahead and try applying:

  • Cucumber slices
  • The inside of a banana peel.
  • A brown paper bag soaked in apple cider vinegar.
  • A paste made with 3 teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of water.
  • The gel from an aloe vera plant.

But in case none of these measures helps, and you find yourself covered with the rash, or the rash ends up anywhere on your face or privates, head to the emergency room. Ditto if blisters form or you have trouble breathing or swallowing.

Also, since the rash typically last one to three weeks, if things don’t improve in a week to ten days, or it looks infected, get to a dermatologist right away.

Remember: at least half of us are at risk.

Indeed, here in Montgomery County, poison ivy is particularly pervasive in a section of the Borough Park behind Tennis Avenue along the Wissahickon Creek specifically, . The cause: the Environmental Action Committee brought in mulch that was laced with poison ivy. Really.

Plus, all efforts to remove the vines have been ineffective. Explains Ambler’s Mayor Jeanne Sorg: “Every time I send them [a company to remove the plants], I get three guys that get it. It’s bad.”

The result is a novel solution that’s under serious advisement: Goats. Yes, goats. Apparently, they’re immune to poison ivy’s urushiol and love eating the plants. Indeed, twelve of them can easily gobble up a quarter or an acre in just a couple of hours.

Stay tuned, and, all the while, be on guard.

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