Well this is a blog I have just been itching to write! As we all know, we can only control nature so much, and occasionally on a nice hike through your favorite trail, you can come across some less than pleasant wildlife and plant life. Learn how to identify, avoid, and treat yourself or others if you happen to bump into one of these less than friendly plants!
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac grow everywhere. These plants grow mainly in North America in wooded and marshy areas. There are many myths and misconceptions about these plants as well. The three “poisonous” plants are not really poisonous, they have a sap like oil that covers their leaves that is to blame for the nasty rashes they leave behind. This sap is called urushiol and causes extremely itchy and quite painful rashes on the skin.
These rashes consist of streaks of red raised blisters and while unpleasant, often do not show up for hours to days after contact with the plant’s oil. While the rash and itching are not contagious, if in contact with the plants, wash it off immediately to avoid spreading the oil.
Note: pets (dogs and cats) can be harmed by poison ivy, oak, and sumac as well. An animal that comes in contact with the oils of these plants may not show symptoms immediately because it has to work its way through the animal’s fur. Animals can also transmit the sticky oil to humans.
How to Avoid
Seeing as these plants can be anywhere, the best way to avoid them is to be aware of your surroundings and knowledgeable about their appearance. The rhyme “leaves of three, let them be”, however, is not true, poison ivy has only three leaves, but the other two can grow in leaves of seven to thirteen.
Another precaution to take is simply wearing clothing that covers your skin. If the oil cannot touch and stick to your skin, it cannot harm you. However, you should always be careful and wash any clothing or tools that come in contact with these plants as the oil may still be on them.
Another dangerous misconception or myth about poison ivy, oak, and sumac is that you do not need to visit the doctor to get treatment. In minor cases, you may not need to see a doctor, but it is smart to go anyways. If the rash is close to your face or eyes, or if the rash is accompanied by nausea, fever, shortness of breath, extreme soreness, or allergy like symptoms, you should visit the ER immediately! Doctors can prescribe pills and/or cremes to reduce the rashes, swelling, itching, and any other accompanied side effects.
While there is no substitute for seeing a doctor and receiving treatment, along with treatment, there are some home remedies you can use. Aside from washing the area with water and soap, keep the infected area cool, dry, and clean. Lotions like calamine lotion, diphenhydramine cream or hydrocortisone can help control itching. Cool compresses, baths with baking soda/oatmeal can also soothe the rash to help avoid the terrible itch. Avoid scratching the rash or blisters because it will only make it hurt and itch more.
Nobody plans to come into contact with these plants, but accidents happen when you least expect it. Hopefully this information can help you, your friends, or your family on your next trip through the trails in Saskatchewan!