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    Leaves of three, let them be!

     

    You've probably heard that rhyme about poison ivy.  But did you know that poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac all contain the same rash-causing substance:  It's called urushiol a colorless, odorless oil (called resin) contained in the leaves of the plants.

     

    What are the signs and symptoms of Poison Ivy?

     

    Urushiol is considered an allergen because it causes an allergic reaction--which takes the form of a rash, itching and sometimes swelling.  Not everyone gets a reaction to urushiol, but about 60% to 80% of people do.  This reaction can appear within hours of coming into contact with urushiol or as late as 5 days later.  Typically, the skin becomes red, itchy, and swollen and blisters may appear.  You may have some oozing from the blisters.  After a few days, the blisters may become crusty and start to flake off.  The rash that people get from poison ivy may take 1-2 weeks to heal.  Some people that are very allergic to urushiol may also develop hives.

     

    Should I see a doctor?

     

    It's a good idea to consult with your doctor if you have any kind of rash, especially if you have a fever too.  If your doctor determines that a rash has been caused by poison ivy or a similar plant, he or she may tell you to take cold showers and to use a soothing lotion, such as calamine lotion.  In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe pills or creams that contain antihistamines or steroids (not the same type of steroids that bodybuilders use) to decrease itching, redness and it some instances hives.

     

    Can I prevent it?

     

    Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can grow anywhere--from the woods to your own backyard.  And it's hard to identify.  Not only can the green leaves of poison plants blend right in with other plants and brush, but there are several typs of poison ivy, and each one can look different depending on the time of the year. Make sure you shower with soap if you think you might have been exposed, to wash off any urushiol. If your dog has been out exploring and is exposed, give him a shower as well to wash off any urushiol oil that might be on his coat.  If you come in contact with the oil on the dog it can cause the same reaction as if on the plant.  Avoid areas where you know there is poison ivy.  Wear long sleeves and long pants when your're in areas where poison ivy or similar plants may grow. 

     

    TeensHealth/Dr. Hyde/2010

     For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.