Poison ivy grows all over North America and like all hiking safety issues prevention is best achieved with knowledge. If you know what poison ivy looks like you can easily avoid contact.
A good resource for all outdoor hiking safety issues is Wilderness First Responder, A Text for the Recognition, Treatment, and Prevention of Wilderness Emergencies
What does poison ivy look like?
Poison ivy is a hearty plant that can be found growing in tall grass, along roadsides, in the woods and even in campgrounds. It has three pointed leaves that are smooth with the center being slightly longer than the two on the sides. The leaves changes color throughout the year: reddish-yellow in the spring; green in the summer months; and red, orange or yellow in the fall. Also small greenish flowers in bunches along with clusters of small white berries develop in late in the season.
Are there any benefits of poison ivy?
Surprisingly yes, no for you or I, but for many small animals and birds which eat the berries and are not impacted by the oil.
Why is poison ivy so poisonous?
Poison ivy contains urushiol oil which can penetrate deeply and quickly into your skin, in fact in a matter of minutes or a few hours. For about 85% of us our immune system reacts to the poison urushiol oil as it is seeping into our skin and leads to unpleasant blistering, itching and a rash.
Later a red inflammation of tiny bumps, blisters with a clear fluid ooze forms. This fluid from the blisters can even cause the rash to spread so never break open the blisters. It can take a few days to five weeks for the itching rash to go away by itself if left untreated as each individual reacts differently.
Urushiol oil is tenacious, it is not water based and does not evaporate. It can contaminate and stick to items such as hiking clothes, shoes and gear for over a year. It is therefore possible to because infected long after your original hike. Also it can stick to dogs as well.
Poison ivy treatments
It is always a good idea to see a medical professional immediately if in doubt as to how to procedure. If you experience blistering or your eyes swell shut do consult a doctor. People will react differently to the poison.
There are many home remedies out there and over the counter products are also available from your drug store. Whatever you do you need to react quickly before it spreads.
- First immediately wash the affected area in warm water and rubbing alcohol on the rash and immediate area. This is to help the rash dry out.
- Then immediately take a full body shower using soap, not a bath to help get rid of the oil. Some recommend dish soap as it is made to cut grease.
- To help with the itching try white vinegar, hot tap water, baking soda as a paste. And calamine lotion Gold Bond Medicated Anti-Itch Cream are additional suggestions
Have a safe hiking experience and hopefully you never get poison ivy along the trails.