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Health & Parenting

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Summer Safety for You and Your Kids

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac

Betsy Dunphy, 44, enjoys living in a woody area in Herndon, Va. But she could do without the poison ivy. She once missed a week of work when a rash from the vine spread all over her face and chest. In another summer, she developed a poison ivy rash on her wrist after moving azalea plants, and was careful to keep it from spreading.

Rashes from poison ivy, oak, or sumac are all caused by urushiol, a substance in the sap of the plants. Poison plant rashes can't be spread from person to person, but it's possible to pick up a rash from urushiol that sticks to clothing, tools, balls, and pets.

Poison plant rash prevention and treatment

Dunphy says she's been able to avoid an outbreak in the last two years mainly by learning what poison ivy looks like and avoiding it. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, while "leaves of three, beware of me," is the old saying, "leaflets of three, beware of me" is even better because each leaf has three smaller leaflets.

"I also wash my garden tools regularly, especially if there is the slightest chance that they've come into contact with poison ivy," Dunphy says. If you know you will be working around poison ivy, wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves.

Hikers, emergency workers, and others who have a difficult time avoiding poison ivy may benefit from a product called Ivy Block. It's the only FDA-approved product for preventing or reducing the severity of rashes from poison ivy, oak, or sumac. The over-the-counter lotion contains bentoquatam, a substance that forms a clay-like coating on the skin.

If you come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, wash the skin with soap and cool water as soon as possible to prevent the spread of urushiol. If you get a rash, oatmeal baths and calamine lotion can dry up blisters and bring relief from itching. Treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroids and antihistamines.

Poisoning in Children

The parents of a 2-year-old boy called the Nebraska Regional Poison Center in Omaha when he accidentally sprayed cleaning disinfectant into his eye. He developed a burn in the cornea. Another 2-year-old boy spent several days in the hospital and survived after drinking charcoal lighter fluid that had been left by the barbecue pit. In another case, a 3-year-old girl got into a bottle containing insecticide and died several days later.

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