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Cope with Poison Ivy

By Marilyn Pokorney

Poison ivy, western poison oak and poison sumac all have an oil in their leaves, vines and roots called urushiol. The oil is released when the plant is bruised. The oil is still active even in dead plants. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85 percent of people are sensitive to the oil.

Act fast!
Usually within 15 minutes of contact, the urushiol binds to skin proteins. When you know you have been exposed, wash within five minutes with cold water to completely prevent a reaction. If the urushiol is washed off with soap and water before that time, a reaction may be prevented. Washing within an hour will still reduce a reaction. And for up to about six hours after contact, washing with alcohol may still help remove some of the oil.

When the rash appears
Approximately 24 to 36 hours after exposure, an itchy rash with blisters develops. Scratching the blisters doesn't spread the rash. New lesions that appear are in areas less sensitive or where less urushiol was contacted. The rash can last as few as five days to as long as six weeks, with the average being two weeks.

If a rash develops, the blisters and red, itching skin may be treated with calamine lotion, Epsom salts or bicarbonate of soda. For mild cases, wet compresses or soaking in cool water may be effective. Hydrocortisone creams and oral antihistamines can help relieve the itching. For severe reactions, see a doctor.

An old folk remedy that is effective is rubbing the crushed leaves of jewel weed to the exposed areas. Jewel weed relieves the itching, stops the spread and helps to heal the poison ivy rash. Jewel weed can sometimes be found growing where poison ivy grows. A tea made from the leaves is said to work as a preventive before exposure.

Don’t forget things around you
The oil can remain active on clothing and footwear for as long as a year, so be sure to wash clothing very well or throw them away.

Urushiol can stick to pets, garden tools, balls or anything it comes in contact with. Pets should be bathed and the urushiol should be wiped off of inanimate objects with alcohol and water. Be sure to wear gloves or otherwise cover your hands while doing this and then discard the hand covering.

Urushiol that has rubbed off plants onto other things can remain potent for years. In a dry environment, the potency of the urushiol can last for decades, even up to 100 years.

Visit this link more information on preventing and curing poison ivy rashes.

© Marilyn Pokorney

Marilyn Pokorney is a freelance writer of science, nature, animals and the environment. She also loves crafts, gardening and reading. Visit her at

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