Tips to Prevent and Treat Exposure
Did you know that according to the CDC, poison ivy grows in every state except Alaska and Hawaii? Given its widespread existence, most people will be exposed to this poison plant at least once, if not often in their lives. According to the American Skin Association, poison ivy affects as many as 50 million Americans each year. Although some may not be allergic, 85% of people experience physical reactions such as rashes, swelling, and blisters.
If you are allergic to poison ivy, you are more likely to be allergic to poison oak and poison sumac because all three plants contain the same rash-triggering plant oil (urushiol).
Identify the culprit. Poison ivy can grow in woods, city parks, or even in a sidewalk crack. Individual plants can vary depending upon growing conditions and can be found as a shrub or vine. Each leaf has three glossy leaflets, with smooth or toothed edges. Remember the old adage: "Leaflets of three, let them be."
Once you have been exposed to poison ivy, immediately rinse your skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water. Continue rinsing frequently so that the wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread. Remember to scrub under your nails with a brush.
Applying a cool water compress with a cloth and adding either baking soda or oatmeal can help reduce the itch. Anti-itch creams can also help and are available over the counter.
Symptoms may last from days to weeks. If you start to experience a severe reaction such as swelling or difficulty breathing or have had serious allergic reactions in the past, call 911 or go to the ER.
If there is a potential for exposure, wear gloves, long sleeves, pants, and protective boots. Clothing that is exposed should be washed separately in hot water with detergent. Don't forget to clean tools and gloves frequently as well. According to the FDA, urushiol can stick around on surfaces, sometimes for years, until it is washed away using water or rubbing alcohol.
Poison ivy rashes are NOT contagious. You will get a rash from poison ivy only if you come into contact with urushiol. In addition, a poison ivy rash, even one with open blisters, won't spread to other areas of the body. The rash only occurs on parts of the body that were actually exposed to the plant oil.
Once-immune does NOT guarantee forever immunity. Always use caution. Even if you don't have an allergic reaction when first exposed, that doesn't mean you won't have a reaction another time. Individual sensitivity can change throughout a person's lifetime. Also, keep in mind that a person's sensitivity to urushiol can change over time or even from season to season. People who were not sensitive as children can develop a hypersensitivity to poison ivy as an adult and vice versa.
Dead plants ARE still toxic. In the summer, plants are in full bloom and at their highest potency. However, it is a threat nearly all year long.
The leaves are NOT the only part of the plant with urushiol. The oil is found in the roots, flowers, stems, vines, and berries also.
You do NOT have to touch the plant to have a reaction. The oil can be transferred onto your clothes, pet, or tools. The oil also can be inhaled from particles of burning plants. If burning poisonous plants is unavoidable, the CDC recommends A NIOSH-certified half-face piece particulate respirator rated R–95, P–95, or better. This recommendation does NOT apply to wildland firefighters. Firefighters may require a higher level of respiratory protection to protect against possible exposure to combustion products.
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