Just the name of poison ivy can strike fear into the most experienced camper. It's oil allergen has been known to cause blistering rashes and discomfort for weeks. The fact that the plant is found across much of North America makes it a subject anyone who frequently engages in outdoor activities like camping should know about. As with any issue, knowledge is the key starting point to preventing exposure. Below is information about the appearance, effects and treatment of poison ivy everyone should know.
What poison ivy looks like
Despite the fact that poison ivy comes in a few different forms, there are three common characteristics to help identify it. The first is its iconic three almond-shaped leaves. Second is its alternate leaf arrangements. Third, the stems and vines of poison ivy do not have thorns.
Though these the are main characteristics, there are also other things to watch out for. Poison ivy occasionally has a cluster of white berries and hairy vines and changes color at certain points of the year. It can look red in spring, green in summer and reddish-orange in fall. For more useful information on how to identify poison ivy, take a look at Wikipedia.
Where poison ivy is found
Poison ivy grows throughout the entire United States, except for a small area in the far West. In the East and Midwest, it's usually found in areas around lakes and creeks. The vine form of poison ivy climbs trees or other vertical objects and can grow to be the thickness of an arm. More commonly, poison ivy grows straight on the forest floor either as ground cover, in which it's about knee high and thick, or as a single-standing plant. Although it is not very tolerant to shade, it can also be found under dense canopy.
Effects on the body
Poison ivy releases an oily allergen called urushiol when contact is made. While there's a small portion of people who are sporadically immune to urushiol, the vast majority suffer an allergic reaction if exposed. Depending on the severity of exposure and the sensitivity of the person, the effects may vary. It usually develops within hours into an extremely itchy area of the skin. Red bumps emerge near the area of exposure and can become vesicles or blisters filled with fluid. It may also lead to swelling that can last more than a week.
What to do if poison ivy gets on your body
Upon exposure to poison ivy, you should immediately attempt to wash it off with cold water. Taking a shower might make it spread, so it's important to contain the area. Sometimes you can wash off the oil with alcohol or dish soap up to six hours after exposure, but since contact is usually made far from resources, carrying a first aid kit on all camping trips is essential.
If it's been a while since exposure and your skin is beginning to itch, it should be treated with medicine. For severe cases, you should immediately see a doctor, because prescribed medicine will make it go away faster. Popular home remedies, such as taking a hot shower, spraying the area with deodorant and putting hot sauce on it, will simply ease the itch, but not get to the root of the issue. Calamine lotion and Burow's solution also help ease the discomfort. For a more comprehensive list of treatments, see the Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Information Center.
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