Tag: rash

Learn How to Spot and Treat Poison Ivy

You can probably spot poison ivy if you were looking out for it, right?

Leaves of three, let it be…

You know the problem though, right? Most of the time, you aren’t actually looking out for it.

Spotting Poison Ivy

It would be nice if we got a warning anytime we were going to be around poison ivy.

Poison Ivy Warning Sign
Our local YMCA used to have a sign warning kids to stay out of the surrounding woods.

Or if someone was nearby to point it out to us.

Poison ivy won't always be this easy to spot.
Poison ivy won’t always be this easy to spot.

That’s not usually going to happen, so you need to learn how to spot poison ivy if you want to avoid it.

What’s the first step in learning how to spot poison ivy? Understanding where poison ivy is likely to be growing.

Any “wild” area, especially along tree lines and fences, just off paths and trails, and around ponds and lakes, are likely places you will find poison ivy.

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Whether it is a tree line, fence, or edge of a path, you will likely find poison ivy growing nearby.
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Yup, there it is on one of the posts.
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Looks like a great place to go fishing… and get exposed to poison ivy if you aren’t careful.

If you really want to avoid getting a poison ivy rash when you are outside in an area that might have poison ivy plants, it is likely a good idea to wear long pants, a shirt with long sleeves, gloves, and boots. There are also products, like IvyX, that you can apply to your skin that are supposed to protect you from poison ivy oils.

Identifying Poison Ivy

While it is a good rule of thumb that you might run into poison ivy in a wild area, in some parts of the country, you might even encounter poison ivy in your own backyard. That’s why learning how to identify poison ivy plants is so important, especially if you or your kids have severe reactions to these plants.

This poison ivy plant is growing out of the edge of a lawn.
This poison ivy plant is growing out of the edge of a lawn. Photo by CDC/ Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr..

What’s the key to identifying poison ivy? That’s right – think of the old adage – leaves of three, let it be.

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Birds eat the poison ivy berries and poop out the seeds, which is why you find these plants growing along tree lines… or in your garden.
Poison ivy plants use aerial roots to grab on to trees and fences.
Poison ivy plants use aerial roots to grab on to trees and fences.

There is a little more to it than that though. After all, other plants have three leaves. If you really want to be a pro at identifying poison ivy, you also need to know that with poison ivy:

These dead poison ivy plants on this tree could still trigger a reaction.
The dead poison ivy plants clinging to this tree could still trigger a reaction.
  • the middle leaflet has a longer stalk (petiole) than the other two
  • leaflets are fatter near their base, but are all about the same size, are green in the summer, and can be red in the fall
  • you can sometimes find poison ivy plants with clusters of green or white berries
  • their stems don’t have thorns, but do have aerial roots, which help them cling to trees and fences

Most importantly, understand that even a dead poison ivy plant or a plant without leaves can trigger a reaction.

Thinking about burning poison ivy? Don’t! Inhaling the smoke from a burning poison ivy plant can be deadly.

What about poison oak and poison sumac?

They look very similar (well, except poison sumac, which has 7-13 compound leaflets, instead of just 3), but unlike poison ivy, which grows as a vine, these other plants that can cause the same type of reaction grow as a low shrub (poison oak) or a tall shrub/small tree (poison sumac).

Avoiding Poison Ivy Rashes

If your kids are active and adventurous, it is likely going to be a little harder to avoid poison ivy than for kids who rarely go outside.

And even if they get good at spotting poison ivy, the next time they spot it, might be when they are climbing down a tree that is covered in it.

What can you do if your child is exposed to poison ivy?

  1. You can quickly cleanse the exposed areas with rubbing alcohol. How quickly? You have about 10 to 15 minutes to prevent a poison ivy reaction after an exposure.
  2. Next, rinse the exposed areas with cool water. Don’t use soap, since soap can move the urushiol around your body and actually make the reaction worse. It is the urushiol oil from the poison ivy that actually triggers your poison ivy rash.
  3. Don’t forget to scrub under your nails with a brush.
  4. Now, take a shower with soap and warm water.
  5. Lastly, put on disposable gloves and wipe everything you had with you, including shoes and tools, etc., with rubbing alcohol and water. And wash the clothes you were wearing. It is possible that urushiol that remains on these things could trigger another reaction if you touch them later.

Instead of rubbing alcohol, several over-the-counter  products are available, like Zanfel, IvyX Cleanser Towelettes, and Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub or Cleanser.

You could even use a degreasing soap (dishwashing soap, like Dawn). One group of dermatologists has suggested that you could prevent a poison ivy rash after getting exposed by using a damp washcloth and liquid dishwashing soap, washing for three minutes with “repetitive, high-pressure, single-direction wipes under hot, running water.” Repeat this full body wash two more times within one to two hours of your exposure.

If these methods don’t work and your child gets a poison ivy rash, look for treatments to control the itching and inflammation, which will likely mean visiting your pediatrician for a prescription for an oral steroid (tapered over two to three weeks to prevent a rebound rash) and a steroid cream. In addition, other anti-itch treatments and home remedies can be helpful, including an oral antihistamine, calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, cold, wet compresses made with Domeboro powder packets (modified Burow’s Solution), etc.

Keep in mind that without treatment, poison ivy rashes typically linger for about three weeks. Fortunately poison ivy isn’t contagious, so you wouldn’t have to keep your child our of school for that long, but except for very mild cases, see your pediatrician for treatment if they have poison ivy.

What to Know About Poison Ivy

Learn to avoid poison ivy, so that you can avoid getting a poison ivy rash.

More on Poison Ivy

Treating Hard to Control Poison Ivy

Poison ivy growing on a tree, ready to give your kids a rash.
It is better to learn to avoid poison ivy than to get a rash and have to get it treated. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

It is usually not hard to identify a child with a poison ivy rash, especially a classic case of poison ivy, which might include a child with a known exposure to poison ivy after a camping trip, hike in the woods, or day at the lake, who a few days later develops a red, itchy rash all over his body.

The problem is that many parents don’t remember the “known exposure,” especially if it is the child’s first poison ivy rash.

The Poison Ivy Rash

Aerial roots on the stems can help you identify poison ivy, and yes, they can trigger a rash too.
Aerial roots on the stems can help you identify poison ivy, and yes, they can trigger a rash too. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

After exposure to the leaves, stems, or roots of a poison ivy plant, children develop symptoms of poison ivy within 8 hours to a week or so, including:

  • an intensely itchy rash
  • red bumps that often may be in a straight line or streaks, from where the poison ivy plant had contact with your child’s skin
  • a rash that appears to spread, mostly because the rash appears at different times depending on how big or small a dose of the urushiol oil that area of skin got, with the rash appearing first on the spots that got exposed the most
  • vesicles and blisters that are filled with fluid

Keep in mind that children exposed to poison sumac and poison oak, other members of the genus Rhus or Toxicodendron, can get these same symptoms that we generically refer to as poison ivy symptoms.

(Using medical terminology, these children develop rhus dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis, an intensely pruritic, linear, erythematous, papulovesicular rash after exposure to the urushiol oil in poison ivy.)

Treating Poison Ivy

It seems like everyone has their favorite treatments for poison ivy.

These basic treatments for poison ivy are usually going to help control the itch, and might include:

  • oral antihistamines (Benadryl or Atarax)
  • modified Burow’s Solution
  • Calamine lotion
  • Aveeno oatmeal baths
  • over-the-counter or prescription topical steroid creams

Is that all you need?

While these treatments might provide temporary relief and might be enough for very mild reactions, those with more moderate or severe symptoms will likely require systemic steroids.

Does that mean a steroid shot?

That might be what your doctor suggests or what some parents request, but keep in mind that it might wear off too soon, leading your child’s poison ivy symptoms to flare up again (rebound rash). That’s why most experts recommend a longer, tapering course of oral steroids instead of a single shot. A steroid dose pack is also often avoided as treatment for poison ivy, as the dose might be too low and it typically doesn’t last long enough.

Since the poison ivy rash might not go away for as long as three weeks, getting treated with systemic steroids can be an especially good idea if you have a moderate or severe case.

Avoiding Poison Ivy

A classic poison ivy plant in the 'leaves of three, let it be' configuration.
A classic poison ivy plant in the ‘leaves of three, let it be’ configuration. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Since very few people are actually immune to poison ivy, it is best to learn to avoid getting exposed to it in the first place.

You can start with the old adage, ‘leaves of three, let it be,’ but you really have to look at a lot pictures of poison ivy to get good at avoiding it. And to be safe, learn to avoid the places where poison ivy grows – along tree lines, around lakes and ponds, along trails, and in wooden or wild areas, etc.

Or at least do your best to avoid the plants by wearing long pants, a shirt with long sleeves, and gloves, etc., to avoid skin contact even if you are around poison ivy while hiking, playing along a creek, or fishing near a lake.

What can you do if you have been exposed to poison ivy? If you can rinse the exposed area with rubbing alcohol, like within 10 minutes, then you might avoid a reaction. After that, the oil in poison ivy, urushiol, will likely be stuck and trigger a rash. Of course, you don’t want to be applying rubbing alcohol to a large area of your child’s skin though or allow your child to use it if they will be unsupervised. And be sure to wash it off afterwards.

Commercial products might be more useful (and safer) to help you avoid poison ivy reactions and  include:

  • Ivy Block – was an over-the-counter barrier lotion that was supposed to prevent poison ivy, but unfortunately, it isn’t being made anymore
  • Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser
  • Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy & Oak Scrub
  • Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash

Although it is best to use the products immediately, within 10 to 30 minutes after exposure to poison ivy, if used anytime before you get a rash, you might decrease your symptoms. And if you get lucky, you might not get any symptoms at all.

Myths and Facts About Poison Ivy

Would you recognize this is poison ivy? It will still trigger a rash...
Would you recognize this as poison ivy? It will still trigger a rash… Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

As common as poison ivy is, there are many myths and misconceptions about it, including that:

  • poison ivy is contagious (false) – scratching doesn’t spread poison ivy, although it may seem that way as the rash spreads to new areas over the days and weeks after being exposed. That’s only because some areas of a child’s skin that had less exposure to the poison ivy plant than others will get the rash later, not that they are continuing to spread it by scratching.
  • you can get poison ivy from your dog (true) – although not as common as direct contact with a plant, indirect contact, like if you touch the oil from poison ivy that got on your dog’s fur or on your clothing, could trigger a reaction
  • it is easy to spot poison ivy (false) – poison ivy plants are often found growing among other plants, can trigger reactions year round, even when they don’t have any leaves (the stems  and roots can trigger a reaction too), and even dead poison plants can trigger a reaction, which can make it extremely hard to simply use the ‘leaves of three, let it me’ advice to spot plants.
  • birds help spread poison ivy (true) – ever wonder why poison plants grow along tree lines? Birds and small mammals eat the poison ivy berries and then poop out the seeds, allowing new plants to grow wherever the birds commonly hang out, including tree lines, around lakes and ponds, and your garden.
  • it’s easy to get rid of poison ivy plants (false) – poison ivy plants are very persistent and can be hard to get rid of
  • goats like to eat poison ivy (true) – well, goats like to eat everything, but a goat in your yard will likely eat up all of the poison ivy plants.
  • it is easy to identify poison ivy (false) – many other plants mimic the ‘leaves of three, let it be’ pattern, like Virginia creeper and Boxelder
  • burning poison ivy plants is dangerous (true) – the oil that triggers the poison ivy rash can vaporize, meaning exposure to the smoke from a burning plant can cause severe reactions.

And remember that your pediatrician can be helpful if you think your child has poison ivy. (true)

What To Know About Hard to Control Poison Ivy

While poison ivy isn’t contagious, it can make you miserable if you don’t learn to avoid it and treat poison ivy rashes properly with anti-itch creams and steroids.

More About Hard to Control Poison Ivy

Roseola

Roseola is a very common childhood infection.

It was first described in the journal Pediatrics in 1910 by J. Zahorsky.

Also called roseola infantum or exanthem subitum (sixth disease), it is caused by human herpes virus type 6 and 7. That fact wasn’t discovered until 1986 though.

Roseola is best known for causing a high fever for about three to five days, but even more characteristically, roseola often causes a rose-pink or red rash on your child’s trunk once the fever breaks.

Infections can also be asymptomatic.

There are no treatments and it rarely causes complications. Even febrile seizures that can be triggered by roseola, which happens commonly, are not thought to be serious.

Roseola, even reactivation of an old infection, can be a serious for children or adults with immune system problems though, especially those who have had a stem cell transplant.

What To Know About Roseola

Roseola is a common viral infection that most kids get in early childhood. The biggest problem when having roseola is that by the time you get diagnosed, because the fever is gone and your child has a rash, it is basically over.

For more information: