By Mary Migliaro
Families spend a great deal of time outdoors during the summer months. Along with protection from sunburn, you should be aware of how to prevent exposure to poison ivy or other poisonous leaves.
When it comes to prevention strategies, spend some time with your children showing them how to recognize the poisonous leaves. Your local library or the Internet will have pictures and descriptions of the various types of poisonous leaves such as poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Excellent YouTube videos can also be found online. "Leaves of three, leave it be" holds true for poison ivy and oak. Poison sumac has 7-13 leaflets arranged in three pairs, with a single leaf at the tip.
All three plants, (poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac), are commonly found in most regions of the United States, in all seasons. They are not restricted to wooded areas; they can be found anywhere there is brush or under-growth, even your backyard. The danger is in the oils that are on and in their leaves and stems.
You can even get very serious poisonous exposure from the smoke of burning wood that has the vines or stems of these plants on them. The symptoms of exposure can appear as quickly as a few hours, or one to three days after contact.
Other prevention strategies include applying a coating of protective cream, such as IvyX Cream, to kids if they are going to play in an area where the plants grow. Have kids wear long pants and long sleeves when playing in those areas and avoid burning the plants. Doing so releases urushiol into the air, where it could inflame skin.
No matter how good your prevention strategies, occasionally someone in the family may be exposed to one of these types of poisonous leaves. All those mentioned contain urushiol, an oil that can trigger a red, itchy rash often with blisters within 24 hours. The rash can last one to three weeks. "There's no topical treatment that's 100 percent effective," says Sidney Hurwitz, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Yale Medical School. But he offers these steps to minimize the misery:
• Cleanse the affected area within five to ten minutes of exposure, using mild soap and water and a clean washcloth. Launder your child's clothes and yours along with the washcloth, in case the oil clings to them. Clean shoes with equal parts rubbing alcohol and water.
• Apply a cool compress. Dip a handkerchief into cool water or a mixture that is equal parts milk and water. Wring it out and place it on the rash until itching is eased.
• Let your child soak for 20 to 30 minutes in a tub filled with tepid or cool water and colloidal oatmeal. Pat (don't rub) him dry when he gets out of the tub. Wash the towel and clean out the tub.
• Apply calamine lotion. Over the counter (OTC) or prescription hydrocortisone cream can also help.
• Consider an OTC oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Give a dose appropriate to your child's age and weight; consult your doctor.
• Sunlight aggravates the rash, so keep your child in the shade or indoors until his rash subsides.
• Call the doctor if the rash develops pus, if your child's face, eyelids, or hands swell, or if itching is severe.
Finally, if your child does develop a severe outbreak, keep him or her away from siblings and other children as poison ivy and other related rashes are quite contagious. Follow these tips and you and your family will have lots of good memories from nature without any “souvenirs” from poisonous plants.
[Mary Migliaro, is an educator and parent mentor