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One of summer's bummers: Poison ivy

A quick way to cut a camping trip short is to come in contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac. These three relatives have an irritating trait in common: urushiol. Urushiol is the oily chemical that plants carry, causing painful rashes, blisters and bumps with an agonizing itch. 

Your best defense? Avoidance. Make sure you, family members and children are all aware of what to look for and steer clear. "Leaves of three, let it be" is a common rhyme to remember poison ivy's appearance. 

Urushiol can easily transfer to clothing and objects. Poison ivy, oak or sumac could've brushed up against a pant leg or dog leash, so take extra precaution with items that may have been exposed. With that said, symptoms might not crop up right away, and it may take between 12 and 72 hours to experience a reaction. 

The most common symptoms are:

  • A red rash or red streaks
  • Bumps and blisters that may ooze
  • Swelling
  • Itching

Up to 85 percent of people have an allergic reaction from exposure, so if it's gotten on your skin, immediately wash with a soap like Dawn and lukewarm water or rubbing alcohol within 30 minutes. Hot water will open your pores, allowing the urushiol to spread.


Put on rubber gloves and toss potentially exposed clothes into the wash machine with the hottest water and longest cycle possible. Urushiol can be potent years later, so jackets, shoes, gardening tools and tent stakes should be washed sooner than later to prevent future spread. Same goes for your pet; using rubber gloves, wash your pet as you typically would, and toss the towels you dried Fido with into the washing machine.

Fortunately, you cannot spread the rash to anyone else. Only people who have come in direct contact with urushiol will experience the reaction, and the rash will usually last one to three weeks. Often, the rash goes away on its own, but calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or cold compresses will help calm the itching. Serious reactions will benefit from a prescription, like a steroid ointment. 

There is no doubt about it, you're going to be miserable. Try not to scratch, and remember for next time: "Leaves of three, let it be."


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