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Know Your Enemy: Poison Ivy!

'Tis the season for Hiking and trail running. There's a lot of beauty in these woods, but you got to be careful and avoid the poison ivy that lurks at the edges of the forest. Yes, it pays to know your enemy.

First off, it is the uroshiol oil on the plant that is the culprit and creates the horrible itchy, blistery skin reactions associated with poison ivy. While some people don't have a reaction to the oil, others may be hospitalized because their reaction is so severe. You should also know that even if you've been exposed to poison ivy and had no reaction, you are not necessarily immune to it. People can develop reactions at any time of their lives, so it is best to avoid poison ivy at all costs.

You will experience symptoms wherever the oil makes contact with your skin. First you will get a red, itchy spot on your skin, that develops into blisters. Once you wash your skin with soap and cold water, the rash won't spread. If you pop the blisters, the rash won't spread either, but the wounds could become infected so it is best not to pop them.

Many plants can look like poison ivy, so pay close attention whenever you're walking in moist areas. The rule "Leaves of 3, Let it be," doesn't always work. It can grow in groups of 3 leaves, with a larger middle leaf, but it can also grow up to 9 leaves in a group.

Want to know what to look out for, then

  • Poison ivy needs light to grow, so often you'll find it lurking on the edge of woods, roads, parking lots, and fields. In the deep woods, poison ivy can't get enough light, so watch out for moist places that get enough sunlight.
  • Poison ivy generally grows in a cluster of low weed-like plants, but it can also be a vine that climbs up trees.
  • The edges of the leaves have tiny "teeth."
  • The leaves aren't always green - they are reddish in the spring, green in the summer, and yellow or orange in the fall.
  • The berries are typically white.

Fit's Tips: To avoid getting poison ivy, wear long pants and shoes that cover your entire foot if you are going to be trekking in the woods. If you know you've been exposed to poison ivy, rinse the area immediately with COLD water - hot water will open your pores and let the oil in, which could make your reaction worse.

Here are some more pictures of poison ivy:

poison ivy in the spring

poison ivy in the summer

poison ivy in the fall

climbing poison ivy

Fit's Tips: Poison ivy grows everywhere in the U.S. except in the far west, deserts, and high altitudes.

a poison ivy bush


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