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Poisonous Plants

By Gregory T. Penny, M.D.

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​Poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poison oak can be found just about anywhere, including your back yard, along hiking and biking trails, at the lake or river, surrounding your camp site and in the woods.

Allergic Reaction

Nearly 90% of all Americans are allergic to poison ivy and poison oak. If your child comes in contact with the oily sap of one of these plants, it’s practically a sure bet that he or she will get an extremely itchy rash that will appear wherever the sap has touched. A rash will also appear if your child comes in contact with something that has touched the sap, such as your pet’s fur, gardening tools or clothing.

Recognizing Poisonous Plants

The best way for your child to avoid the misery of poison ivy or poison oak is to learn what these poisonous plants look like. Both plants consist of leaves that come in threes and can be found on vines, as ground cover or as a low shrub. Teach your children to recognize these plants and to stay clear of them at all times. Whenever hiking in areas with heavy growth, be sure your child wears protective clothing including lightweight long pants, socks and long sleeves.

Act Right Away

If your child does come in contact with a poisonous plant, it is important to act right away.

  • Do not itch the area, no matter how bad it is. Anytime you itch the contaminated area, then touch another part of the body, the rash will spread to that area.
  • Wash any exposed areas with cold running water for at least five minutes. Doing this within 20 minutes to an hour of exposure will prevent much of the oil from absorbing into the skin.
  • Take off all clothing and shoes outdoors and either wash them with a garden hose or place them in a plastic bag and take them inside to be washed in a washing machine right away.

Watch Your Dog

Your dog can spread the oil from poison ivy or poison oak too. Do not allow your dog to run through high brush or the woods. If you suspect he or she has brushed against a poisonous plant, hose him down right away. Better yet, give your dog a bath regularly to eliminate the possibility that you or your child will get an itchy rash.

Relieving the Itch

A rash will appear one to two days after being exposed to the plant. The rash will last about two weeks. There is no treatment that can cure the rash; however, there are several ways to help relieve the itch:

  • Take a cool shower and spread calamine lotion over the rash.
  • Massage the affected area with an ice cube for at least 20 minutes.
  • Soak in a lukewarm bath with an oatmeal or baking-soda mixture.
  • Apply a steroid cream to reduce the itching.
  • Administer Benadryl orally to ease itching.

Call a Doctor

If itching becomes severe, even after treating the rash; the skin looks infected; the rash lasts longer than two weeks or if you have any questions or concerns, call a doctor during office hours. However, if the rash is painful with extreme swelling go the emergency room right away.​