First off - Just what the hell are these plants and how do they affect you?
Well, these three plants are all part Toxicodendron family of plants and they produce a certain type of oil called Urushiol. This oil is what causes the body the break out in rash condition called contact dermatitis, but we'll get to that later.
Will be found in most states east of the Rockies including parts of lower Canada.
What's it look like?
Grows in small bushes or vines, three leaves and red stem!
Found on the Pacific coast of the US and Canada.
What's it look like?
Grows in small bushes or vines, three to five leaves and red stem (sometimes)!
Found mostly in wet areas of the Southeastern US, East Coast and Southeastern Canada - Basically the entire East coast but also inland near the Great Lakes.
What's it look like?
Typically it grows in smaller vine clumps made up of a half dozen to a dozen leaves. Notice the red stems!
These three plants should be avoided by most people. Touching them can make you break out in a rash which is actually your bodies reaction to coming into contact with Urushoil. Some rules for Poison Ivy and Oak:
Leaves number three, stay away from me
Stem is red, you'll wish you were dead
Urushoil - Oil from Hell:
This oil is like the cockroach of the woods. It can last essentially forever even on a dead plant. It you get it on your clothes and don't wash them properly you can be sure the next time you put them on, even if it's months or years after the first contact with the plants, the oil will be waiting ready to infect you once again. Wash all clothes which may have come into contact with the oil with hot soapy water. Also wash any gear as well. This includes paintball equipment, gardening tools, etc! If the item which you think is possibly covered in the oil is cheap, you can always throw it away. Don't burn anything which has come into contact with the oil as it can put the oil into the air and you can inhale it - you can guess what happens then . Obviously don't burn the plants themselves, even if the plants are dead.
Personaly Tip - I wash clothes once with dish soap, preferably something for washing really greasy pans. Dawn works well. Dish soap is made for cutting oil's and fats, and Urushoil is one of those! I usually throw all my paintball gear in the washer with Dawn dish soap. Then once it's washed, I do it all over again with regular laundry soap.
The good news - about a quarter of the population has no allergic reaction to Urushoil. Unfortunately that means the 3/4 of the population has to learn to avoid these plants. So called immunity to the oil can be gained or lost thru the passage of time. I was very sensitive to the plants when little and after a couple bad infections I luckily developed an immunity to it, this year I found out I'm back to being "normal" and lost it. You'll see a picture below.
Fun fact - one Poison Ivy plant stem can "infect" 10,000 people. The effects of coming into contact with Urushoil start with a rash developing on the skin in all areas where the plants oil touched the skin. Skin starts getting redder and blisters start forming, similar to hives. The blisters are formed from blood vessels and will ooze a watery solution which may or may not contain blood if they've been scratched. Try to avoid scratching at all costs - more on this later. The inflammation, swelling, redness, and blisters can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the serverity of the infection.
Poison Ivy myth: Scratching the blisters causes them to spread. False. The oil is already absorbed into the body. It cannot spread without second contact with Urushoil.
I got a wicked case of Poison Ivy rash this year at CPX Sports' Living Legends, dont turn into me :
Many other pictures can be seen around the internet so I won't bore you with a huge list of them. You get the picture by now.
First off, prevention:
Obviously avoid exposure to the plants. Wash your skin as soon as you can after coming into contact with the plants. Wash with cold water! Cold water closes pores in your skin and gives you a bigger chance of avoiding the oil absorbtion. After an hour or so, the skin has usually absorbed the oil and you're in trouble. Apply a barrier cream or lotion. One such barrier lotion is called Ivy Block; it contains an ingredient which is designed to absorb the oil produced by these plants. I used to use it. I had great success with it. Obviously I should have stuck with it.
Over the counter or home remedies:
I don't recommend these. I've never had any luck with them but I know some people like to try or strictly stick to these types of things so I'll list them. Do some research before using any of these products.
Zanfel - Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac wash
Cortaid - Anti- Itch Spray or Lotion
Tecnu - Anti- Itch Spray
Bendadryl - Anti- Itch Cream, Allergy Pills
Aveeno - Hydrocortisone Anti- Itch Cream
Jewelweed lotions - these are actually proven to help in some cases
Do NOT use any products containing Benzocaine or Neosporin if using any prescription medication; more on this below.
If you have a decent insurance program I would suggest using it to the max in this case. The pills and creams you can get are found in every pharmacy, since the plants are so common. And on top of that they qualify for most co-pays, meaning you may get them for free. Why not take advantage of that?
Your doctor may set you up with Triamcinolone Acetonide cream. You put this on the blisters and within minutes they start tingling and the itch can settle down to a dull feeling. I typically wrap my legs in guaze when I use these creams. The guaze lets air thru and doubles by not letting me scratch bare skin.
Depending on the severity of the reaction to the Urushoil and the amount of time which has passed before going to the doctor you have two other options available to you. 1. A Prednisone shot or 2. Prednisone pills. Most doctors will opt for the pills since this gives you a taper regimen. The reason for the taper is this; Prednisone suppresses your immune system. Typically you'll take a big pill dose the first day and slowly drop the dose until you're back up to fully operational immune system. The faster you get to the doctor after infection, the lower the amount of drugs you may have to take. This can be good for a few reasons. Prednisone side effects include water retention and insomnia. So not only do you itch all over, you feel fat, and can't sleep thru those itchy nights. Prednisone is also addictive. Use it only for the recommended doses and durations doctors prescribe.
Prednisone is the reason to not use Benzocaine or Neosporin products to stop itching. These products can also induce reactions the body would normally fight against, but with no immune system you are stuck with whatever you come into contact with. Please avoid sick people as well.
I hope this helps some people. With the resurgence of recball and scenario play, the woods are filling up with players.
If you've made it this far down into the post here's your reward. Poison Ivy isn't all bad.