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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


Join The Conversation
ishop2much ishop2much 10 years
Thank you thank you!!!
brielleblonde brielleblonde 10 years
my boyfriend eyes got swollen when we went up to maine and we had no idea what it was from... we go to the doctors and find out that it might be poison ivy that didn't show up on the thick callouses on his hands, but when he touches his eyelids they spread to there. he ended up being put on steroids and taking Allegra and it went away shortly after.
GeikoSera GeikoSera 10 years
So informative, thank you! Don't forget, the leaves can have a "sheen" to them too!
su9a su9a 10 years
LEAVES OF 3, LET IT BE!!! a good thing to remember when you're hiking. i was allergic to poison ivy when i was younger but i have grown out of it and it doesn't irritate me anymore but that doesn't mean i'm going to go running through a field of it.
JBlondie JBlondie 10 years
I guess I am one of the lucky people that aren't allergic to poison ivy. When I was little, I ended up accidentally rolling around in it, and it had no affect whatsoever!
cravinsugar cravinsugar 10 years
1-You can also get poison ivy from touching the vine it grows off of, which can be bare in the wniter so be careful-you can fill it by chopping it in half...(atleast, kill the top part) 2-you can get poison ivy from the fur of your dogs and cats also, so be careful! I had a friend get poison ivy on her face after rubbing her face along her kitties fur. 3-Calamine lotion, and wear gloves or socks on your hands at night so you don't scratch in your sleep. 4-I ran through a patch one time and jumped in a river and immediately scrubbed and i didn't get a rash, but I don't know that i am allergic or not. i was afraid to find out. perhaps that worked?
likethedirection likethedirection 10 years
Last year my boyfriend and I got poison ivy all over us. I had it all over my face and he had it in some pretty awful, they just can't keep their hands out of their pants!! Anyway, if you have poison ivy rash over more than 25% of your body or if it's on specific spots (near eyes, groin area, etc) you can go to the doctor and get steroid (prednisone) pills. I noticed a significant difference within a few hours.
CestLaVie CestLaVie 10 years
Gagh, my boyfriend had a terrible case of this for about a week and we tried everything to stop the itching/make it go away. After doing some online research when over the counter and pharmacist recommended stuff wasn't working, we found that rubbing the inside skin of a banana peel worked as did making a paste from baking soda and vinegar to stop itching. ALSO- note that this stuff (the oil) can stay on shoes/clothes etc... for up to a YEAR! So wash bedding, towels, clothes- everything if you think you have it.
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