As we near the start of spring, folks will soon be heading out to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air in the great outdoors.
Unfortunately, a pleasant trek on a hiking trail can quickly turn into an itchy nightmare if you happen to brush up against toxic plants lurking amongst the freshly sprouted foliage.
While poison ivy is a well-known culprit behind a sudden, post-hike outbreak of blisters and rashes, it’s not the only villainous vegetation lurking around.
Before you head out for an adventure through the woods, get familiar with these three potent plants you’ll want to avoid:
The old saying goes, “Leaves of three, leave it be,” and it’s great advice for avoiding the red, itchy blisters of poison ivy’s urushiol oil.
This trifoliate plant crops up in all 50 states, typically growing up tree trunks, along roadsides, and across the ground.
It blends in well with other ground-covering greenery, so it’s best to stick to trails where you’re safe from accidentally brushing against it.
Unlike poison ivy, poison sumac is a woody shrub that can grow up to 30′ tall. You can identify this toxic tree by its auburn-colored stalks, yellow flowers, and groups of 7-12 oblong leaves. It prefers wet areas, like the banks of ponds or small rivers.
Poison sumac has much higher concentrations of urushiol oil than any other plant, making the reaction more intense and uncomfortable. It can lead to severe swelling, large, oozing blisters, and unbearable itching.
Despite its name, the poison oak plant isn’t related to oak trees. Instead, it goes by that moniker because the leaves resemble those of the English oak when the plant is fully mature.
It’s similar to poison ivy in that it has trifoliate leaves and contains urushiol oil in every part of the plant. However, you can differentiate it by its shiny, green leaves, yellow flowers, and reddish-orange, fuzzy berries.
Because the potency of the toxic oil is less than that of sumac or ivy, you’re most likely to develop the rash in areas where the skin is thinner, like the wrist and ankles.
What to Do After Contact
One thing to keep in mind is that your reaction to touching these plants can vary drastically based on how long the contact was and whether you’ve ever encountered them before.
In many cases, people don’t have a reaction for days or weeks if it’s their first time making contact. On the other hand, if you’ve had a rash from a toxic plant before, your immune system is much quicker to react.
Luckily, you can take measures to prevent a severe reaction by acting quickly after contact. You have time to reduce your symptoms by getting the toxin off of your skin as quickly as possible.
- Wash the area gently with dish soap, rubbing alcohol, or laundry detergent to break down the plant oils but do not scrub. Scrubbing can push the toxins deeper into the skin and make the problem worse.
- Rinse well with cool water to remove the soap or alcohol from your skin. All three are harsh cleansers ideal for breaking down oils but not so great for your skin health.
- Wash your hands and under your nails. You may have accidentally transferred the toxin while washing the area of contact.
Treatments for Reducing Discomfort
It’s a common myth that scratching the rash resulting from contact with urushiol oil will spread it, but that’s not the case. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s safe to scratch the itch, as it can lengthen the time it takes to heal, cause scarring, or lead to an infection.
You can ease the discomfort with the help of over-the-counter treatments like calamine lotion, antihistamines, or taking cool baths with colloidal oatmeal.
If a rash or blisters aren’t healing or the contact was near your eyes, set up an appointment at Advanced Dermatology & Cosmetic Institute.
Our providers will check the area to ensure there’s no need for more intensive intervention, such as prescription steroids or topical treatments to reduce redness, swelling, and itching.