Gardening | Judy Conway

By: Judy Conway  09-12-2011

In writing articles we are encouraged to write on subjects we are passionate about.  As I sit here  with my right eye half swollen shut, I am VERY passionate about poison ivy.  I would like to start this article by quoting the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” My goal is to provide you with information on the things you should know about poison ivy.

Here is a picture of poison ivy climbing a tree to help you identify the plant that can cause you a great deal of pain and money.  Poison ivy also be a free standing plant.

Poison Ivy on a Tree

In my entire 64 years I have never been allergic to poison ivy.  That was until about two years ago.  I was using the weed whacker in my back yard.  I was wearing shorts and upon cutting through numerous poison ivy plants and flinging these pieces of plant up and down my body.Let me tell you I ended up being covered in a severe  poison ivy rash.  I never traveled far from my spray bottle of alcohol.  It took several trips to the doctor, a shot and then a two week regimen on steroids before I began to find comfort.

For this reason, I am extremely careful trimming around this area in my yard.  I was working at eliminating new growth the other day when the end of one of the vines hit me in the face under my eye.  I had gloves on, long pants and a long sleeved shirt and was still attacked by this obtrusive plant.  I instantly came in the house and took off the gloves and put those in the trash, put my clothes in the washing machine and began washing my face and body with cool water. The are various schools of thought on washing to rid the skin area of the urushiol oil that causes the rash.  Some advocate the use of soap and water, while others say the soap just spreads the oil on your skin.

I really thought I had been successful until the next morning when I got up and saw a bright read blotch under my eye.  Before long the blisters appeared.  I am including below some facts on the rash:

The poison ivy rash typically starts one or two days after exposure, though the delay between contact and its onset can be longer, up to several days. This may lead to confusion over where the exposure took place. The first signs of the rash are curved lines of red, itchy bumps or blisters. These continue to appear for many days, depending on how much resin touched the skin at a given point. This makes it seem as though the rash is “spreading,” although the fluid in blisters is just part of the allergic reaction and contains no chemicals or bacteria. It also makes it appear that there may still be poison ivy in clothes and/or on pets. Although this is theoretically possible, repeated washing of these often produces no improvement.

I am thankful that I escaped with only the one area being affected.  Not being able to totally see out of one eye is the biggest inconvenience as I work on the computer.  It was good to read that poison ivy is not contagious, neither from one person to someone else nor from one part of the body to another.

I would like to insert a word of caution here.  Even though you do not make contact with the poison plant yourself, the oil can get on your dog or cat’s fur and they can bring you the gift of this lovely rash without your even knowing it.

The best precaution you can take against this is to be certain you do not have this plant in your yard.  There are a few products that are good at eliminating the plant from your yard all together.  Make sure you read the label to see if it will destroy any of your other plants.  I used the spray a couple of years ago and I eliminated all of my blackberry bushes!

Glyphosate-  The product is sold under the trade names of Roundup, Roundup concentrate and Kleenup. It is applied to the foliage of poison ivy but is trans-located throughout the plant, including the roots. Glyphosate has no soil activity. It will kill or injure all plants contacted by the spray, including grasses. Applications near the foliage of desirable ornamentals should be made with extreme caution. Glyphosate should not be applied when rain is expected within six hours of application because its effectiveness will be reduced. After treatment, the vegetation should not be disturbed for several days. Remember, dead poison ivy still contains poisonous oils and should be handled with care if the soil in a treated area is to be worked. When glyphosate is the active ingredient listed on the label it is identified as Isopropylamine salt of glyphosate.

Amitrole -  Amitrole is sold under the trade names of Amitrol-T, and Weedazol. It is applied to the foliage and is translocated throughout the plant. It is nonselective, therefore it will kill or injure any plants to which it is applied. It also remains active in the soil for several weeks after application, therefore it is important not to use it near other desirable plants. The soil activity also prevents the planting of new vegetation for several weeks.

It should not be used in areas where food crops will be raised or animals grazed. When amitrole is the active ingredient listed on the label, it is identified as 3-Amino-1,2,4-triazole.

2,4-D -  This product is sold under many trade names and is often mixed with 2,4-DP to improve its effectiveness on woody plants. Weed-B-Gon Jet Weeder is a 2,4-D product for use around the house that can be purchased at most lawn and garden centers. It is not the most effective treatment for controlling poison ivy, but it does not kill grass.

I am taking Benadryl and a triple strength antibiotic ointment with pain reliever.  Here are some other suggestions for treatment of the rash:

Once it begins, the rash will usually clear on its own by 14-21 days. Treatment is directed at controlling the itching. Oral antihistamines (like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help the itch somewhat, but often they do no more than make people drowsy. Cortisone creams, whether over-the=counter or by prescription, are only helpful if applied right away, before blisters appear, or much later, when the blisters have dried up. Compresses with cool water or Burow’s solution (available without prescription) can help dry the ooze faster.

When the rash is severe, such as when it affects the face or causes extensive blistering, oral steroids (for example, prednisone) can help produce rapid improvement. This course of therapy should be maintained, often in decreasing doses, for 10-14 days or even longer in some cases, to prevent having the rash rebound and become severe again. Patients who are given a six-day pack of cortisone pills often get worse again when they complete it, because the dose was too low and administered for too short a time.

Here are some cases where you may be best to consult your physician. Far more powerful agents are available by prescription for the rash and itching of poison ivy.

Facial or genital involvement. The skin in these areas is easily damaged and scarred, and swelling from rhus dermatitis can be dramatic.

Involvement of large areas of skin. Ten percent of the body’s surface, or about the size of the entire front abdomen.  This is too large of an area to self-treat.

Signs of infection. These include pain and tenderness, growing redness around the rash, or pus. Clear or slightly yellow transparent fluid is common from poison ivy blisters and is not a sign of infection.  Be cautious if you find yourself scratching the rash as dirt and bacteria can be under your nails and cause infection.

Extreme itching. Itching which disturbs sleep or normal daily activities despite using OTC treatments should be treated by a physician.

I hope that you will find this information on poison ivy helpful.  Ideally, I hope that you will never have to use it.  The internet holds a plethora of information on this topic.

Happy gardening and I wish you a summer that is poison ivy rash free!

Judy Conwway

Skype ID: judy.conway

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