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487 Summer Stories -
Poison Ivy

Poison ivy close to the falls

When we visited Old Stone Fort earlier in the month, I went down to the Big Falls area on the Duck River. Along the rocky bank of the river, poison ivy seemed to flourish. A group with several smaller children were in the area and the children were playing in the poison ivy.

I stopped and said to one of the the adults, "you know they are playing in poison ivy."

The adult looked at the vine and said rather nonchalantly, "look kids, this is poison ivy, if you touch it you will get a rash." That was all. They continued to stay in the region with the children playing and possibly even looking for more of the toxic vine.

Perhaps the adult was not allergic to poison ivy.

I wish I was as lucky.

In my younger years, I had several poison ivy bouts each year. Most of the episodes ended in doctor's visits to get shots and special ointments.

I knew how to identify poison ivy; but I hardly ever took the time to practice vine identification procedures. If someone stopped and asked me could I find any poison ivy in the area, I would have been able to quickly identify it. The problem was there was never anyone around to ask me to identify the vine. So, I ran through the woods, wallowing in the weeds, and playing until the days end.

The next day the itching would begin and soon thereafter I was on the way to the doctor, again.

So, here are a few tips to avoid the itch ...

Know how to identify the vine (or bush).

Before stepping off the trail, know what you are stepping into.

Wear protective clothing. Put on pants and a long sleeved shirt. Worse case scenario the urushiol oil will penetrate your clothing and not your skin. Try not to handle the clothing with bare skin. Wash the clothes as soon as possible. A prolonged line drying session will also help sanitize the clothes. If there is any doubt, wash 'em again!

Pretend to be a member of a Haz-Mat team as you handle anything that came in contact with the toxic ivy. Plastic bags make good disposable mittens.

After you know how to identify the plant and are always watching where you step, and you still find yourself in contact with the vine, then wash in cold water as soon as possible. Generally, your arms and legs are what come in contact with the vine. Try to avoid touching any part of your body with the affected area.

Immediately wash and scrub the area in cold water. You are trying to get the oil off of your skin.

If rinsing (with cold water) make sure the water does not drain across other unaffected areas. A hose would work better to wash off the oil than standing in a shower.

Alcohol also helps cleanse the area. Ivy Cleanse is a commercial product which is essentially an alcohol towelette. In the directions of use, Ivy Cleanse also suggests wiping your clothes with the towelette.

A few times we have been on trails where contact with poison ivy was unavoidable, if we wanted to continue to walking the trail. We could always choose to turn around but never have yet. Our strategy has been to pass the area as quickly as possible and then immediately stop to attempt to wash the oils off of our clothes and bodies. If water is available we wash in the water, if not we use the Ivy Cleanse (which is in our first aid kits.) Then we pray!

Oh, if we were responsible for some kids who were playing in poison ivy, we would have immediately washed and scrubbed them in cold water (which was available) and then probably even shortened the outing. I am sure those poor souls had a whole lot of scratching going on.

Yes we are paranoid; but we seem to avoid the rash as long as we maintain a fearful respect for the vine and recognize that the consequences of our inactions lead to a few miserable, itchy days and doctor's visit.

Happy itch-less trails


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