Scratching through the surface
A closer look at poison ivy
Leaves of three—let them be! This rhyme was created to remind us to avoid poison ivy, but what else can be done to prevent and treat the uncomfortable, itchy reaction caused by these plants?
As the weather gets warmer, and your children head outside, educating them to be aware of poison ivy is the key to prevention. Because about 85 percent of children will have an allergic reaction to these plants when they are exposed, teaching them more than a simple rhyme can reduce their risk.
There are three types of the plant commonly called poison ivy: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy leaves are shiny, come in the aforementioned clusters of three, and can be found on shrubs, vines, trees or even on the beach, where the leaves appear waxy and curled.
As with most plants, poison ivy appears differently each season but causes an allergic reaction anytime contact is made. During the summer, the plant is in full bloom—new leaves are red and shiny, while older leaves are dull. In the fall, the leaves turn a variety of colors, including orange, red, yellow and brown. In the winter, the plant loses its leaves, and in the spring its leaves are bright red and shiny.
The allergic reaction occurs when urushiol, an oily substance from the plant, comes in contact with the skin. The oil is easily transferred from the plant to clothing, shoes, toys or pets, and can remain active for more than a year, making it possible for a child to be exposed without coming in direct contact with the plant.
The rash can last up to one month. If it becomes severe or your child has a fever, notify your pediatrician immediately. After a physical examination and medical history, the pediatrician may prescribe a steroid cream or oral steroids to help with the itching and swelling.
Along with teaching your child to spot poison ivy, here are a few more suggestions to prevent exposure:
Teach your children to recognize the poison ivy plant.
Wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves and boots when in suspect areas.
Use barrier creams such as Ivy Block.
Remove plants if necessary (this should be done with caution—do not burn the plants since inhaling the smoke can lead to very serious reactions).
Helping your children be aware of poison ivy will keep them from spending their summer itchy and uncomfortable, and allow them to have safe and fun outdoor experiences.
For more information, visit the Children's Hospital Boston Dermatology Web site: www.childrenshospital.org/dermatology.
Keeping an eye on poison ivy
If your child is exposed to the oil, the allergic reaction may be evident within hours of contact, but it can also take as long as a week to appear. Symptoms include:
First, an itchy rash followed by bumps and blisters.
Next, swelling in the area of contact could occur.
Then, blisters will then break and ooze on their own. Do not let your child break his blisters; this could lead to serious infection.
If your child comes in contact with the oil you should:
Remove oils from skin by showering with ordinary soap as soon as possible. Do not give your child a bath. Oils will mix with bath water and spread to other areas of the body. Showering is the best method because it will rinse oils off the body. Repeat washing with soap three times. Alcohol-based wipes also work effectively.
Make sure to wash under your child's fingernails to prevent further spreading.
Wash all clothing, shoes and pets that may have had contact with oil.
There are also many things you can do to ease the discomfort and irritation your child will experience, including:
Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream
An oatmeal bath (make sure the bath is cool or lukewarm—hot water can make the rash worse)
Cold compress or ice cube
- Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl
This article was adapted from
content provided by Children's Hospital Boston to the Health and Parenting sections of Yahoo! For more pediatric health information from Children's, visit http://health.yahoo.com, and select
"Parenting Advice" under Parenting Tips.