Poison Ivy – Austinites Beware!

It’s nearly summer, and once again, POISON IVY is growing all over down at Lady Bird Lake (formerly known as our Town Lake). There are areas where this climbing plant is well over six feet high! If you are walking or jogging with only two-legged (or wheeled) companions, it’s fairly easy to avoid the plant simply by staying on the trail. However, if you have your favorite four-legged partner by your side, beware that poison ivy can be spread from your dog’s fur to you!

Poison ivy (and poison oak & sumac) all have urushiol- the poison sap- in their roots, stems and leaves. This sap can be spread by direct contact with the plant, as well as via clothing and animal fur, although human to human contact does NOT pass the toxic substance. These plants are the most common cause of contact dermatitis in the United States. Not everyone is allergic to them, but an estimated 60-80% of us do react.

What are the symptoms? First you ITCH. Then, the itchy areas turn red and typically blister, often in lines on the skin (where a plant swiped your leg or arm).

How soon do you break out if you are exposed? It depends how many times you have previously been exposed. The first time, you may have a gap of several days before you start itching, but each successive breakout will occur more quickly and often will be more severe. Previously sensitized people may begin itching within minutes to hours of contact.

How do you treat it? Over-the-counter topical steroid creams (hydrocortisone) will often do the trick for mild cases. The more areas affected, the stronger the steroid you will need. For more severe cases, oral steroids are necessary, which must be prescribed by a doctor.

How can you prevent getting poison ivy? Avoidance is key, of course. If you have a pet that has romped through poison ivy, use rubber gloves to thoroughly shampoo your animal. Any soap and water will remove urushiol from non-human surfaces. There is one product, zanfel, which is marketed to specially remove urushiol from human skin. As soon as you are aware you may have touched poison ivy, immediately wash the area with soap and water. If you remove the toxin within around 15 minutes, you may not break out. Also, please beware if you are removing poison ivy from your property- NEVER burn this plant! The inhaled smoke will do the same type of damage to your lungs that it does to the skin…not good.

BOTTOM LINE: “Leaves of Three- Let It Be”! And wash QUICKLY, including your pet- to avoid getting this dermatitis. 

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