As warmer weather approaches and everyone looks forward to outdoors activities like hiking, camping and biking, it’s a good time to stop and recall some of the hazards out there. Unexpected encounters with poison ivy and skunks might rank near the top among these. While the effects of a chance meeting with a startled skunk are temporary, if unpleasant, poison ivy gives most people a nasty rash to remember it by. Some basic first aid should be able to deal with most rashes, until you can get to an urgent care location for medical treatment.
Poison ivy, what it is and what it does
Poison ivy is a plant with pointed trifoliate leaves. This means that the leaves grow in groups of three, which gives rise to the mnemonic that parents teach their children: “Leaves of three, let it be.” The appearance of the leaves can vary, and some have smooth edges while others are notched. The color of the leaves changes from reddish in the spring to green in summer to yellow, orange or red in the fall. The berries are white, and the plant can be either a bush or a vine growing up a tree or a building.
Poison ivy is found everywhere in the U.S. except Alaska and Hawaii. About 85% of the population is allergic to poison ivy, and if they come in contact with the plant, or with poison sumac or poison oak, they can get a nasty rash. Often the rash has bumps and blisters. It can be itchy and sometimes oozy.
What to do if you get a poison ivy rash
A poison ivy rash is an allergic reaction to an oil found on the plant. The first step is to wash the affected area, to get rid of the oil that is giving you the rash. Washing can also prevent the rash from spreading or otherwise becoming worse. It’s a good idea to wash all clothing that has been in contact with the plant.
A minor rash will go away on its own in a week or two, though remedies like over-the-counter creams or lotions will help soothe the irritation. These can include calamine lotion, zinc carbonate and zinc oxide. A soak in a bath with an oatmeal-based bath milk is soothing. Wet compresses can also help.
When to see a doctor
If you have a more serious reaction, with symptoms like a high temperature over 100F, pus or scabs, or if the rash reaches the eyes or mouth, it’s time to see a doctor. A rash that doesn’t heal within a few weeks also needs medical attention. A reaction that involves any difficulty in breathing or swallows should be taken to the emergency room.
For non-emergency situations, an urgent care clinic is the best choice. Urgent care locations treat all kinds of non-emergency conditions and illnesses. Walk in clinics are open on weekends and also have extended hours, so you can go there before or after work. And best of all, you don’t need to make an appointment to see a doctor at a walk in clinic.
The best treatment for poison ivy, like so many other things, is prevention. It’s a good idea to learn to recognize and avoid the plant, along with its relatives poison sumac and poison oak. Most rashes can be treated at home with over the counter lotions and creams. However, more serious cases should be taken to an urgent care location for medical care.