Whether green and climbing or found amongst wooded ground cover, the sight and perhaps even the mere mention of poison ivy can send many people into a heart-palpitating cold sweat. It’s true. Many people are highly sensitive and can develop the bright red, intensely itchy and blistering rash by even the smallest exposure to the potent oil of the ivy plant. In fact, anywhere from 25 to 40 million people suffer from some level of allergic reaction to poison ivy.
The poison ivy plant contains a potent oil, urushiol, that binds to the skin during contact, and then is easily spread over the body. If the oil is not washed off it can be spread from head to toe, as well as to clothing and other items that one comes into contact with. These items can then transfer the poisonous oil to others or even re-expose the already suffering victim when that person comes in contact again. If not washed away, the oil can stay on garden tools and other items for up to five years.
Poison ivy, often associated with the three symbolic bright green leaves, causes quite a bit of summertime suffering for hikers and gardeners across the U.S. And unfortunately, the suffering may soon be even greater. The National Academy of Sciences reports that the higher levels of carbon dioxide that have recently come under extreme scrutiny, serve to increase the potency of the toxic urushiol oil. The plants are flourishing, and the severely allergic may be approaching some of the itchiest exposures of their lives. But take heart. Remember that for severe cases, antihistamines help reduce the severity. Cool water soothes the skin and oatmeal baths can help reduce the itching. And if you know you have been exposed, wash as quickly as possible with soap and water and wash any clothing or materials that you were using at the time. The FDA has also approved IvyBlock, but the best solution is to be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid the plant as much as possible.