How to protect yourself from poison ivy

Everything you need to know about the plant, how to identify it and what happens when you touch it.

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poison ivy
Photo, Stilfehler/Wikimedia Commons.

“Poison ivy leaves an oil on your skin when you touch it and can even be spread from person to person, or pet to person,” says Mississauga-based pharmacist Tommy Lam. “The oil is so potent that only one nanogram is needed to cause a rash.” If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash the area with warm, soapy water and apply a product with anti-itch properties, like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. (Hydrocortisone cream needs to be rubbed in so it gets under the surface skin layer, where the reaction is happening.) “If the itch covers a large area, try a colloidal oatmeal soak,” Lam says. And see a doctor if the itch lasts longer than 10 days.”

Protect yourself from the plantpoison ivy

“Avoiding poison ivy is a matter of education,” says Lam. “Wear long-sleeved clothing outside and learn to recognize the look of the leaves.”

► Poison ivy has three broad, pointed leaflets that are reddish in the spring, turn green during the summer, and become various shades of yellow, orange or red in the fall. Remember: “Leaves of three? Let it be.”
► The plant grows as a low shrub (common in Canada) or vine.
► Poison ivy thrives on sandy or rocky shores, and sprouts in wooded areas, clearings and along roadsides.
► In the summer, the plant produces yellow-ish flowers; in the fall, clusters of waxy, greenish berries.

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This article was originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle magazine.