"Leaves of three, let it be." Many parents give their children that advice and it works, in the case of poison ivy and poison oak -- but not for poison sumac. Learn to recognize and avoid poisonous plants, and find out what to do for poison ivy treatment.
How to Spot Poison Ivy
Poison ivy has three pointed leaves that change colors with the seasons:
- Reddish in the spring
- Green in the summer
- Yellow, orange, or red in the fall
On some plants, the leaves have notched edges. On others, the leaves have smooth edges.
Poison ivy can grow as a bush or vine. You may see the vines climbing up the sides of trees or buildings.
Poison ivy plants sometimes have white berries, which help the plant spread. Birds eat the berries and transplant the seeds on new areas along with their droppings. This may help explain why poison ivy is so common: It can be found in each state in the U.S., except for Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the West Coast.
How to Spot Poison Oak
Poison oak has three leaves shaped in lobes that resemble the leaves of an oak tree.
Poison oak grows in low shrubs in the eastern U.S. On the Pacific Coast, it grows in long vines.
How to Spot Poison Sumac
Poison sumac has leaves that grow in groups of 7 to 13 along its stems.
The plant itself takes the shape of either a shrub or a tree. It has clusters of small, yellowish flowers that mature into clusters of glossy yellow or off-white berries.
Poison sumac is most common in the Midwest, though it's also found up and down the East Coast. It favors bogs, swamps, and the shores of the Mississippi River.
Give Poison Plants Space
The best approach for any allergic reaction is to avoid the source that triggers it. These steps can help you steer clear of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac:
- Avoid areas where you know poisonous plants grow.
- Cover up with closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Wash any clothes that come in contact with poisonous plants as soon as possible.
- If you get exposed, wash your skin with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Though the timeframe varies, you have about 10 minutes to wash a poisonous plant’s oil off your skin before the rash develops.
- Scrub under your nails. You can spread poison ivy to other parts of your body by having the oil on your fingers.
- If you suspect your pet has rolled around in a poisonous plant, give him a bath with pet shampoo and water -- before giving him a cuddle. Wear rubber gloves while giving your pet a bath.
- Make it a habit to wash sports equipment, gardening tools, and other outdoor items with soap and water. Oil from poison ivy and other poisonous plants can get on golf clubs, balls, bats, and any other objects, and can remain potent for as long as 5 years.
How to Treat a Poison Ivy Rash
If you have an allergic reaction to poison ivy, use a cold compress, calamine lotion, non-prescription hydrocortisone cream, or an antihistamine to relieve itching.
Call your doctor if the rash is near your eyes or covers a large part of your body.