I thoroughly love being outdoors. I especially love swamps and forests. I’m not generally one to stick to the man-made pathways and boardwalks either. No, I prefer to hoof it on my own. The world of wildlife watching, for me, is much more interesting without such a deep human footprint.
So naturally, being off the beaten path exposes you to greater risks. Ticks, snakes and toxic foliage are all hazards an outdoorsy person faces on a regular basis but they are even greater hazards when you are deep in the thicket and one of the many types of dangerous flora and fauna is Poison Ivy. Poison Ivy is not a true ivy and can come in many forms, such as vines or shrubs. Many people look at it as a nuisance weed but it is a common form of sustenance for many animals who eat the leaves, while birds consume the seeds.
It’s not so much the plant itself that is the problem but an oil called urushiol oil that is the culprit. This liquid is a major allergen in humans and once it makes contact with the skin, it quickly absorbs and triggers an allergic response. In fact, the oil is so powerful that it can remain on clothing, tools or any porous surface for well over a year. Another cool tidbit about how potent the oil is this: five hundred people could itch from the amount covering the head of a pin.
You don’t always develop a rash or any symptoms at first because the oil is only a threat once your body sensitizes it as one. It then presents, typically, in the form of an itchy rash that may or may not develop blisters. This is how I knew I had brushed into the wrong foliage one Summer.
Being Summer, I immediately assumed the six dots on my leg were Mosquito bites.Marsh Mosquitoes can leave hellish welts that can itch to the point of you crying. So I didn’t sweat it until the red blotches appeared on my fingers. By day four, my now burning and itching welts on my leg had become a burning and itching rash on my leg and hand.
Day five is when the first of the clear blisters developed and it was then that I was one hundred percent sure it was Poison Ivy. That first blister popped soon after it appeared. Not by my own doing but accidentally. It left what appeared to be (by sight and feel) a burn. It was invading my nights to as the itching and discomfort had disrupted my sleep pattern. My thinking then shifted to treating it.
So, how do you treat it? Well there is no instant cure for it but the best treatment I could find was a mixture of lotion, (I recommend Calamine lotion. It’s very soothing.), a burn spray with aloe (Something like Solarcaine), cold compresses, cool showers and an antihistamine such diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to help you sleep. For those that are into more natural remedies; baking soda baths and oatmeal as a salve. Make sure it’s the unflavored whole oats and not the instant stuff. Witch Hazel is an effective astringent as well.
My experience, this time anyway, with Poison Ivy lasted almost two weeks. I’ve been exposed to it two more times since, each time a little less painful, itchy and shorter in duration. One of the biggest tips I can give anyone is that no matter how hot it is, no matter how uncomfortable, always wear pants while exploring the woods and while using a weed eater. All you’re doing there is making a urushiol oil slush to splatter all over you.