WELL BEING: Poison Ivy & Oak

22 May

“Leaves of three, let them be.”

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak can be painful prospects, especially during the Spring.  The rains have everything blooming and we’re all excited to get outside more often.  Outdoor workers, hikers and campers are likely to come into contact with these plants but they aren’t the only ones.

Try as you might to keep your distance from these little poisonous leaves, you may still find yourself having an allergic reaction to Poison Oak and Ivy when your pet inadvertently tracks the plants oils inside your home and onto you after a run around the yard.

Woodland trails start to look dangerous when I see those three leaved plants thriving.  That’s because, I’m one of approximately 85% of the population who happen to be sensitive to the urushiol oil of the Poison Oak and Ivy plants.

I’ll never forget a particularly painful July 4th that found me checked into a hospital, being treated for an extreme reaction to Poison Ivy.  I can truly sympathize with anyone suffering the symptoms associated with this skin allergy; untold pain, discomfort, swelling, dizziness, inflamed skin and impossibly itchy conditions.

What causes all this trouble?  Poison Oak and Ivy produce a resin called urushiol oil, found in the roots and on the stems, leaves and fruit of the plant.  When our skin comes into contact with these plants, the results can range from mild dermatitis to an extreme allergic rash.


  • First and foremost, it’s very important for a physician to make a clear diagnosis of the “contact dermatitis” caused by Poisons Oak or Ivy, its severity and to prescribe an appropriate treatment.  Follow your doctors orders closely.
  • Next, set about cultivating a spirit of prevention.  Learn what these plants look like.  Recognizing them will go a long way towards being able to avoid them.
  • If you’re going to be outdoors in an area where Poison Oak and Ivy thrive, be sure to wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.  I know it’s Texas and that’s asking a lot because of the extreme heat but the clothing need not be heavy at all.  Lightweight covering can protect the skin from the urushiol oil & keep you from having to endure the all too common severe allergic reaction.
  • Take precautions to clean everything very well, including toys, tools, shoes and clothing which have come into contact with the urushiol oil.  Wash everything carefully with soapy water or with alcohol.  Remember, this oil is potent and can last on many surfaces for years, including on the plant itself even after it’s died.
  • If your skin has come into contact with the urushiol oil, be sure to wash with soap and water within 10-15 minutes of exposure. 
  • Compresses soaked in cool water or whole milk can be very soothing as can soaking in an oatmeal bath.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines may come in handy to ease the swelling and itching.
  • Vitamin C has also been known to boost the immune system and calm the histamine reaction.
  • Rhus Tox is the name for a homeopathic remedy made from the Poison Ivy plant itself.  Rhus Toxicodendron is the botanical name for Poison Ivy.  By taking advantage of the fundamental principle of “like cures like”, Rhus Tox may be very effective in aiding the body in recovery.
  • SPECIAL NOTE FOR PET OWNERS:  Pets can suffer the same symptoms of “contact dermatitis” from Poison Oak & Ivy just as we do.  If you believe your pet has been exposed to Poison Oak or Ivy, carefully wash your pet in soapy water and consult your local veterinarian about any allergic reaction your pet may be experiencing.

Send questions and comments to lynnvannoy@gmail.com or visit www.lynnvannoy.com 

The information in this column is not intended as medical advice. Its intention is solely informational and educational.

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