Tuesday, October 22, 2013
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Pretty poison: Coping with poison ivy

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[October 22, 2013]  RHINEBECK, N.Y. -- The cool, crisp days of autumn bring with them the pleasures of leaf peeping, apple picking, pumpkin carving and brisk walks. For most Americans, it also means fall yard pickup -- and along with it, an increased exposure to poison ivy.

According to a report published in Weed Science, research indicates that poison ivy has grown much more aggressive since the 1950s, with leaf size and oil content measurably increased. This is bad news if you are one of the more than 350,000 people who are stricken by poison ivy annually.

Poison ivy tops the list of plants to avoid because it contains urushiol, an oily resin that binds to the skin on contact and may result in a hypersensitivity reaction characterized by itching, burning skin eruptions. This rash-causing poison ivy sap is a clear liquid found in the plant's leaves and the roots, which many people develop an allergy to over time.

Urushiol oil remains active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects -- such as gardening tools, an article of clothing or even a pet -- can cause the rash when it comes in contact with human skin. If poison ivy is eaten, the mucus lining of the mouth and digestive tract can be damaged. And if poison ivy is burned and the smoke inhaled, a rash may appear in the lining of the lungs, causing extreme pain and respiratory difficulty that may become life-threatening.

Lou Paradise, president and chief of research of Topical BioMedics, makers of Topricin, says, "It's a particularly strong year for poison ivy, so it's important for everyone to be aware there are ways to prevent outbreaks, or safely treat rashes and minimize the discomfort and duration should they occur."

About the plant

Capt. John Smith was the first to describe the plant, coining the name "poison ivy" in 1609. Poison ivy grows throughout much of North America and is extremely common in New England, the mid-Atlantic and southeastern U.S. It's typically found in wooded areas, as well as exposed rocky areas and open fields, and can be recognized by its group of three leaflets on small stems coming off larger main stems. For decades, parents have taught their children the singsong phrase "leaves of three, let it be" as a way of learning to spot this pretty but toxic plant. Poison ivy also has inconspicuous greenish flowers with five petals, and the berry-like fruits are hard and whitish.

There are two types of poison ivy, the climbing variety, toxicondendron radicans, and the non-climbing, toxicodendron rydbergil (from the Latin toxicum, "poison," and the Greek dendron, "tree"). Because the varieties interbreed, they look similar and sometimes grow in the same places. They also create the same allergic rash, which may last anywhere from a week to three weeks.

Although some people are immune to poison ivy, most people develop a rash after coming in contact with the plant. After the oil has touched the skin, it takes about 12 to 36 hours for redness and swelling to appear, followed by blisters and itching.

Contrary to popular belief, scratching or oozing blister fluid cannot spread the outbreak or transfer it to other people. New lesions that appear a few days after a breakout of primary lesions means that there was less oil deposited on that area of the skin, or that the skin was less sensitive to it.

Winning the battle against poison ivy

Poison ivy's urushiol oil is extremely potent, and only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash. Even if you've never broken out, you cannot assume you are immune, as the more often you are exposed to urushiol, the more likely it is that you will break out with an allergic rash. In fact, upwards of 90 percent of the population develops an allergy to it.

You and your family can have a more enjoyable fall by following these tips for avoiding outbreaks of poison ivy, along with the helpful treatments for soothing and healing rashes if you do succumb.


  • Avoiding contact with the plant is, of course, the best prevention. At least 50 percent of the people who come into contact with poison ivy develop an itchy rash.

  • Go on an expedition, wearing long pants, a shirt with long sleeves, boots and gloves to minimize exposure. Tour your yard, the playground, the route your children walk to school, a campsite you're visiting and any other outdoor areas you frequent. When you spot poison ivy, show it to your kids and instruct them to stay away from it.

  • If you have a large amount growing in your yard, consult with a professional landscaper for removal. (Unless you are a professional, do not "weed whack" as it sprays the poison ivy -- and hence the oil -- right at you.)

  • Avoid the most dangerous type of exposure, which occurs when the plant is burned and the smoke is inhaled. This can affect your lungs.

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  • Prior to any outdoor activity, apply odorless, greaseless Topricin Pain Relief and Healing Cream to any exposed areas of your body, including face, neck, hands and arms. This will form a protective barrier, making it more difficult for the urushiol oil to bond with your skin. Topricin contains natural medicines that also antidote and neutralize the adverse affect of urushiol oil. As a plus, Topricin is a gardener's favorite for relieving aches and pains from doing yardwork.

  • Urushiol oil is extremely stable and will stay potent for years -- which means you can get a rash from clothing or tools that got oil on them many seasons ago. After exposure to poison ivy, put on gloves and wipe everything you had with you and on you with rubbing alcohol and water, including shoes, tools and clothing. Then wash clothes at least twice before wearing (using bleach, if possible), hose off garden tools well and apply leather moisturizer on footwear items to prevent them from drying out (again, put on gloves).

  • Pets seem to be immune from getting poison ivy, but many people do get a rash from the residual urushiol oil on pets' fur. Therefore, it's a good idea to bathe your dog or cat while wearing thick rubber gloves (not latex). After washing the pet, wash yourself, using cold water to keep pores closed. Consult with your veterinarian if you have questions.


  • Urushiol binds to skin proteins and begins to penetrate within 15 minutes of contact. If treated before that time, a reaction may be prevented. First, wash exposed site with cold water (hot water will open your pores, allowing the oil in). Follow this by bathing the site in milk, which helps to get between oil and skin. Dry off well and then apply Topricin, which will help neutralize the effect of any remaining urushiol oil left on your skin.

  • Scrub under your nails. You can spread poison ivy to other parts of your body by having the oil on your fingers.

  • Wherever poison ivy grows, there is usually a plant known as jewelweed growing close by -- especially in moister, shadier areas. Herbalists and Native Americans have used jewelweed for centuries to treat and speed the healing of poison ivy, as it seems to be a natural remedy. When you are in the field and may have been exposed to poison ivy, pick jewelweed, slice the stem and rub its juice on your skin to ease irritation and help prevent a breakout.

  • Some companies and herbalists offer poison ivy treatment soaps that contain jewelweed and other soothing natural ingredients, such as pine tar. Soaps are available from Poison Ivy Soap Co., Burt's Bees or search online for sources.

  • Take homeopathic Rhus Tox 30X tablets to help build immunity to poison ivy.

  • For severe outbreaks, or if you have any concerns, see your doctor right away.

Symptoms requiring immediate medical attention

If you experience any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room right away:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Many rashes and blisters or a rash that covers most of your body

  • A rash that develops anywhere on your face of genitals

  • Swelling, especially if an eyelid swells shut

[Text from file received from Topical BioMedics]

Topical BioMedics is a research and development leader in topical natural medicines for pain relief. The company's product line includes original Topricin Pain Relief and Healing Cream, Topricin Foot Therapy Cream, and Topricin for Children. The natural formulas have been awarded a patent for the topical treatment of pain associated with fibromyalgia and neuropathy, and they are safe for diabetics.

Topricin products are made in the U.S.A. and are in compliance with federal rules for homeopathic over-the-counter medicines. Topricin products are growing in popularity and are safe for diabetics and the entire family, including pregnant women. Topricin is also a lifestyle product that athletes and other active people appreciate for its ability to help with performance and recovery.

Topricin formulas contain no parabens, petroleum or harsh chemicals; are odorless, greaseless and nonirritating; and produce no known side effects. Doctors and pharmacists can find more information about Topricin in the Physicians' Desk Reference. Topricin website: www.topricin.com

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