Poison Ivy, Myths Debunked

Poison Ivy, Myths Debunked

by Yenny (SU)

You go hiking or walking in the beautiful nature, and are so carefree, you don’t stop and think to realize that sometimes there are plants or foliage that could be poisonous or irritate your skin. But, then you get home and start feeling super itchy and overtime a rash or bumps gradually start to appear on your skin.

You then come to realize, if you knew that you would be walking/hiking in areas where poison ivy was present, then precautions would have been taken to better cover all exposed skin. Although, you didn’t know, and now you are suffering for it. Therefore, we are here to educate you on the truths about poison ivy and debunking any myths that you may have already heard.  

Poison ivy is a plant, in the Rhus or Toxicodendron family, which also is home to poison oak. The plant is often found in sunlight, on a vine or shrub low to the ground, mostly around woodsy areas, trails, ponds, and lakes, but can be in gardens as well.

You can classify poison ivy by the following pneumonic sayings, “Leaves of three, let it be" and “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.” The plant is known for its three leaflets that grow in clusters on their own stem, ranging in color from light to dark green, and red. Poison ivy is connected to a main vine, and in the spring time, flowers or berries tend to grow on them. 

When a person comes in contact with poison ivy, they may not know it immediately, but next time you do come in contact you will now know. Viewing pictures of poison ivy can help you to identify it better.

This plant is known for being poisonous and causing severe inflammation of the skin, known as contact dermatitis, when brushed up against. This irritation almost happens instantaneously and is due to sap on the poison ivy’s leaves, stem, and roots. The sap is a sticky pale-yellow toxin or poisonous oil called urushiol, which is what causes the symptoms of swelling, rash, blisters, pain and excessive itching. Many people form untrue beliefs about poison ivy, and therefore, here are the truths to debunk those poisonous thoughts. 

Myth #1: My Rash from Poison Ivy is Contagious: Coming in contact with poison ivy will cause a rash, as it is a reaction from the sticky oil called urushiol. While people might think that coming into contact with a person who has a rash from poison ivy will give it to them too, this is false. This type of rash is not contagious and does not spread due to touch. However, the urushiol sap found in the ivy’s parts can spread onto another person if touched. If you have the oil on your hands and touch another part of your body or another person, then, there may be a chance the rash will spread. So, in other words, it’s the oil that you need to worry about not the rash itself in terms of spreading and contagion.

Myth #2: Your skin must come into direct contact with the plant itself in order to develop a rash: Yes, an allergic reaction will occur when someone comes into contact with poison ivy, but not by touching the plant itself. Rashes and inflammation occur only after a person comes in direct contact with the sap oil (urushiol) on the plant or on any surface it touches. People think that dead plants are no longer poisonous or toxic, but that is untrue, as fallen leaves are still active, as the oil can linger on almost any surface for up to five years! If the oil gets on your clothes or gardening tools, be sure to wash them with soap and water immediately.

Myth #3: If I never have gotten a rash, I must be immune: This myth is untrue, because according to research, 50 to 80 percent of people will develop a rash after exposure to poison ivy. That is a high percentage. While Some people may not develop an allergic reaction when they are exposed to poison ivy the first time around, that does not necessarily mean they are immune to it. Just because there have been cases where people don’t experience their first reaction, the more a person comes into contact with poison ivy, this may change. An individual’s sensitivity to the urushiol oil often changes over time, due to the seasons changing. In summer you may not have a reaction, but when exposed again in spring, it could be a different story. As well, people who were not sensitive to poison ivy as children can develop a hypersensitivity as an adult. Don’t assume you are immune. Take the necessary precautions every time and cover up.

Myth #4: You can identify poison ivy by seeing a group of three green leaves: While poison ivy is a group of three green leaves, depending on the season they tend to change colors. As well as the colors, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns people that the shape and the number of leaves on the plant may vary depending on the type (species), the environment, and the time of year. In certain areas of the world, poison ivy appears like a hairy vine of leaves. Like most foliage, the leaves change color, commonly each fall. In the spring, poison ivy leaves are usually a reddish color, in summer they range from light and dark green, and in the fall, they change into a yellow, orange, or red color.

At Rockville Concierge Doctors we treat acute illnesses, such as rashes from poison ivy. If you come into contact with poison ivy, and your rash, inflammation, blistering, and itchiness becomes a painful and disruptive, we will spend the time with you necessary to come up with a personalized diagnostic and treatment plan.

To learn more about the truths about poison ivy, and how to protect your skin against it, call Rockville Concierge Doctors at (301) 545-1811 to request an appointment with Dr. Adam Possner.