Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | July 13, 2012

Your Guide to a Calamine Free Summer

When considering qualities that are typically associated with the term “Mother”, I think of “nurturing”, “gentle”, “kind”, and “unconditional love”. However, when it comes to Mother Nature, I can’t always say the same.

Unfortunately, there is nothing gentle about poison ivy, poison oak or sumac. It’s itchy, uncomfortable, and…did I mention itchy? For some, these leafy villains are easy to spot. Yet for those of us who didn’t inherit a King of the Wilderness gene, we typically have to find out the hard way.

If your mother ever told you, “learn from the mistakes of others”, it was coined by Mother Nature.

First, get to know your enemy. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that contain a certain chemical in their sap which causes a rash for those allergic to them. About 50% – 70% of people are allergic, and virtually everyone will eventually become sensitized, if repeatedly exposed.

Risk factors for being exposed to the itchy enemy include; working or playing in wooded areas during the spring, summer and/or fall, touching pets or animals that have come in contact with the plants, and handling clothes, toys, or other objects that have come in contact. Also, exposure to the smoke of these plants if they are burned puts you at risk as well.

If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, poison oak, and/or sumac:

  • Don’t panic!
  • The first two things you will want to grab are: soap and water. Wash your entire body. You can significantly reduce your chances of developing a rash if you wash thoroughly with soap and water within 10 – 15 minutes of exposure.
  • Using alcohol and water wash all; clothes, tools, shoes and any other items that were in contact with the plant.
  • Some studies show that the oil-removing compound Goop, and/or the poison-ivy prevention substance Tecnu are also effective.

If a rash does develop, it will typically disappear within 7 – 14 days without treatment. However, those would be 7 – 14 days with extreme discomfort!

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac kryptonite:

  • Cool compresses with water or whole milk.
  • Oral antihistamines
  • Calamine lotion, zinc oxide or baking soda (particularly helpful if you experience blistering).
  • A diluted aluminum acetate solution (Burrow’s solution).

There are also other medications available by prescription for severe cases.

How will you know if you have it? If you think there’s a chance you were exposed, do a little self check-up. If you locate spots on your body that are itchy, irritable, discomforting and red; then it’s probably one of the itchy enemies.

Note: it is contagious so be kind to your family and friends. Wrapping your younger sibling’s pillow case around your leg that is covered in poison ivy is not advised!

When should I call the doctor? If swelling of the face or throat occurs, rash on the genitals, swelling or rash covers more than 1/3 of your body, it starts to rapidly spread, or you have signs of infection such as; pus, pain and increased redness.

Sounds kind of  scary doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking that keeping your kids indoors to play video games all summer is beginning to look better. However, there are ways you can prevent these poisonous plants from spoiling your summer outdoors.

  • If you are heading out for a hike, or camping trip; pack long pants and long sleeves. If you cover up the areas of your skin that could potentially be exposed, you are safe.
  • Wash your hands after being outdoors, and keep a check on pets. You might want to give Fluffy a bath before you cuddle up too close!

 If you are reading this to your children right now, feel free to follow up with a “Mother knows best”. We can back you up!


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