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Why You're Getting Poison Oak

April 30, 2017

Spring is in the air, flowers are in bloom, and those nasty green-leafed monsters are on the prowl. As much as you may want to hug every tree and pick every flower, keep in mind a little thing called poison oak and its equally evil cousins: poison ivy and poison sumac.

 

How Does It Give Me A Rash?

 

Excellent question. Anytime these plants are opened/exposed they release urushiol oil - that’s the Debbie Downer. 85% of us are allergic to it, hence the ugly, itchy rash. More on how to combat this in a moment.

 

Unlike the rattle snake that let’s you know he means business with his rattler, these plants have no obvious indicators. Here are a couple of things to look for that can help, and of course the more you look for them, the more they start to become visible.

 

Poison Oak

 

The leaves on this plant are in groups of three. The leaves alternate left then right on each side of the plant’s stem, never side by side. Leaf edges are wavy, not exaggerated or sharp. 

 

 

 

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy follows the same principals of poison oak. Leaves are in groups of three and those leaves alternate left then right from the stem. Although THIS plant changes colors with the seasons. They can be a pretty red (like leaves during foliage) or green. In winter they dry up and look harmless but the tree’s sap contains urushiol oil, so you’re not out of the woods here either. Speaking of woods, keep this in mind when collecting firewood. 

 

 

Poison Sumac

 

Can you hear my eyes roll? I never even knew about this one! It’s enough to make a person dress like Bubble Boy every time they leave the house. Sumac is found in wet regions along the Atlantic, so remember this for those times you venture outside Oklahoma.

 

Sumac hangs out along the banks of water. This tree has red stems and long, oval leaves. As you can see in the photo, the leaves on the left and right are side by side, instead of alternating from the stem like poison oak and ivy.

 

 

Care and Prevention

 

The rash can’t spread on your body or over to someone else but the oil that caused it can. Urushiol oil is like any other oil. It and can transfer, not only from plant to person, but from your clothes, tools, shoes, or another person who has it on them.

 

Jim Brauker, Ph.D., spent 25 years as a biomedical scientist studying skin inflammation and had these tips to offer: 

 

-If you know you’ve made contact, scrub the area immediately with soap and water. 

 

-Normal dish soap will do. You don’t need anything fancy.

 

-If you remove the oil between 2-8 hours it won’t be a problem. Wash your clothes, pets, tools... Anything you even think might have been exposed.

 

-It’s crucial to use a wash cloth! The friction, Jim says, is the key to getting it off. Treat it like car grease and scrub everywhere several times (in between the fingers and up near the elbow is often overlooked).

 

-This oil can last up to years on objects: clothes, tools, tires...  Be aware.

 

Watch Jim's youtube video for more info.

 

Keep these things in mind next time you're on a nature hike and save yourself and others from an itchy situation.

 

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Resources:

http://www.poison-ivy.org/identify-poison-ivy-poison-oak

http://www.zanfel.com/help/rashfaq.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxicodendron_radicans *Photos used

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxicodendron_diversilobum. *Photos used

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxicodendron_vernix  *Photos used

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