If you are like 70% of the population, you are allergic to urushiol, the oil found in poison ivy. Once this oil penetrates the outer layers of your skin it can cause “dermatitis” which is inflammation, redness, irritation, itching, swelling, and blistering of the skin.
Besides poison ivy, urushiol is found in poison oak, poison sumac, mango leaves, and the husks of cashews, to name a few plants. You can be exposed to these oils by coming in contact with the leaves, stem or roots of the plants. In addition, urushiol can be transmitted in smoke when plants are burning outdoors or in tainted firewood in your fireplace. This compound is very stable and can persist indefinitely unless it is washed away or diluted in some fashion. You can come in contact with urushiol on clothing, pet hair, tools or other objects that contain the oil. It should be noted that most animals do not share this allergic reaction to poison ivy. Continued contact to poison ivy and the other poisonous plants can wear down the body’s defenses so that individuals may loose their previous immunity to the plant. Immunity can also decrease with age.
The most effective way to prevent problems with poison ivy and other plants is to learn to identify them and avoid contact. Making sure to wash your hands, any exposed skin and your clothing after a day outdoors is another good idea. Giving the family dog occasional baths can’t hurt either. There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medicines and ointments that can be used to reduce the itching and other symptoms of poison ivy. A natural remedy involves rubbing jewelweed on the infected area to reduce itching and dry up the rash.
Nature Notes for 8/8/2010