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Missouri's Most Irritating Plant

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

irritant when the oil has been absorbed into the skin and begins to metabolize with other skin proteins. Your body's immune system reacts to it, causing itching, inflammation and blistering of the skin. Only after your body has destroyed these new proteins do the symptoms subside.

Depending on your sensitivity and amount of exposure, symptoms generally appear after 12 to 48 hours. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get a poison ivy rash from someone else's rash or blisters. The liquid inside your blisters is not urushiol, but fluids your body has produced. Still, breaking the blisters is not recommended because it could prevent healing and lead to infection or permanent scarring.

Preventing Pain

The oil from poison ivy is sticky and begins to bind with the skin in as little as 5 minutes. Shortly after exposure, you might notice a slight red rash or small blisters. The sooner you wash the exposed area, the less likely you will have a serious rashes or blisters.

Wash with lots of cool running water. Use soap only if it doesn't contain lanolin or another oil that could help spread the urushiol. Old time lye soap is good for removing poison ivy oil, as is Fells Naptha soap and Ivory soap.

You could also use rubbing alcohol or a mild solution of Clorox, but use them sparingly, and immediately follow with good rinse. These are harsher on the skin.

A few commercial products are marketed for their ability to remove urushiol from the skin. Products like Tecnu and Enviroderm are available in the pharmacy section of most large retail stores.

Folk wisdom calls for the application of jewel weed or spotted touch-me-not to exposed areas. These plants can both remove the oil and soothe the rash, but they should be used only if you are sure you can identify them, and if you have permission to collect them.

Avoiding Irritating Plants

The best preventative for poison ivy is to avoid it. Don't touch it or walk through it. Don't grab leaves along the trail or your fencerow. If you must walk through poison ivy, step on the plants with the sole of your shoe. If you have to remove the plant from a walkway or garden, use gloves for protection.

The next best way to avoid a rash is to put something between you and poison ivy. You can use a commercial urushiol block or extra clothing to help protect skin.

Remember to avoid

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