Have you had poison ivy? Most of us have at some point. If so this picture probably makes you itch somewhere.
Exposure to Poison Ivy
Poison ivy and other Rhus plants, like poison oak and poison sumac, contain an oily allergen called urushiol, which causes a reaction in up to 80% of the people who come into contact with it. It usually causes an itchy skin rash that can last weeks.
Urushiol is found on the vine, stems, and leaves of the plant. Simply brushing against the plant, even during the winter months when it appears dormant, allows the oily allergen to come into contact with your skin.
Within 10 to 15 minutes after contact, your skin begins absorbing the urushiol. 24 to 48 hours after that, a skin rash will begin appearing.
Urushiol can also transfer to clothing, boots, gloves, hats, etc. It’s oily residue can remain on these items for years. Touching a contaminated item even months later allows the urushiol to transfer to your skin.
The Key to Preventing an Allergic Reaction
For most people, it takes 10 to 15 minutes for the oily allergen to absorb into the skin. If you can remove the irritant before it can be absorbed, your chances of experiencing a reaction or greatly reduced.
If you contact poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac:
- Wash you all areas that you feel may have contacted the plant as soon a possible. Soap and cool water are sufficient in removing the oil from your skin.
- If you are in a survival situation and soap is not available, use plenty of water. I would also suggest reaching to the bottom of the water source and getting a little sandy or muddy silt and rub your skin well with it. This will help remove the oil from you skin.
- If no water is available, rub dirt or sand on the exposed areas. You want to remove as much of the oil as possible.
- Treat clothing that has come into contact with the plant. Wash your boots, shirt, gloves, etc. If left untreated, these items can contaminate you with the oil weeks or months later.
Treating a Poison Ivy Rash
A poison ivy rash produces little blisters where the urushiol was absorbed by the skin. If you experience an outbreak:
- Don’t scratch the itch. This will cause the blisters to burst and they could be infected.
- Apply topical ointments or creams to help reduce the itching. Calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can help.
- Some people find that applying baking soda and water helps to reduce the symptoms.
- Oral antihistamines can also help relieve the itching sensation.
Scratching Does Not Spread the Blisters
A very common misunderstanding of poison ivy is that scratching and bursting the blisters of a poison ivy rash can spread the infection area.
This is not the case.
It’s the exposure to urushiol to the skin that causes an outbreak. The blisters of a rash do contain a fluid, but it’s not urushiol. It’s your body’s reaction.
While scratching and burst the blisters should be avoided to prevent possible bacterial infections, the fluid contained in the blisters does not contain urushiol and hence cannot spread the rash.
Once again, the key to preventing the spread of a poison ivy rash is to clean everything that may have come into contact with the urushiol oil.
Poison ivy rashes are an annoyance in the good times. In a post-TEOTWAWKI world, that’s one annoyance that you definitely don’t want.