Know how to identify, avoid poison ivy this fall

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MOLINE, Illinois — Between soaking rains and that cause flooding, you may be tempted to spend some time outdoors this fall as leaves change and temperatures become bearable. However, with rain comes growth, and more growth means poison ivy.

Here’s what you need to know to avoid these pesty plants, and if you can’t avoid them, at least you’ll know how to manage the effects.

Best way to avoid the plant: know what it looks like

Poison ivy has several identifying characteristics. Alone, some of these are shared with other plants, but put them all together and it’s going to be poison Ivy.

  • “Hairy” vines: if you see a vine crawling up a tree or fence, check to see if it’s covered in a bunch of little roots. If it is, stay away.
  • Three leaflets: two leaflets are paired together on the stem and are a-symmetrical. They look like little mittens with a notch on the outside. The other leaflet is symmetrical and has a longer stem.
  • Shiny: the leaflets tend to have a sheen due to the oil, urushiol, that covers it. This is the stuff that tricks your body into an allergic reaction. If they glisten, don’t touch.

Here’s an example of a “hairy” vine.

What not to do (DHHS)

  • Don’t touch it. Pretty obvious, but any leaf-to-skin contact can result in an allergic reaction.
  • Don’t touch stuff that touches it. Other people, animals and objects that rubbed up against the plant can have the oil on it.
  • DON’T BURN IT. The oil particles will get in the smoke. If inhaled, this could cause serious reactions in people’s lungs.

Oh no, you got it on you. Now what?

Symptoms of the rash include:

  • Red rash within a few days of contact
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Possible bumps, patches, streaking or weeping blisters. NOTE: Blister fluids are not contagious

First Aid

On first exposure:

  • Wash immediately with poison plant wash, rubbing alcohol or degreasing soap (like dish soap)
  • Scrub under finger/toenails

If you get the rash:

  • Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or
    hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and
    blistering. Oatmeal baths may relieve itching.
  • Local pharmacies have various drying sprays that have stronger effects than lotion, though they may cost more.
  • An antihistamine may help relieve itching. NOTE: Drowsiness may occur.
  • In severe cases or if the rash is on the face or genitals,
    seek professional medical attention.
  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room if you have
    a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty
    breathing, or have had a severe reaction in the past.
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