With summer comes grass. With grass comes mowing. And, (just ask my husband), with mowing comes poison ivy. It’s totally sneaky, hiding in various parts of your yard, just waiting for you to come by so it can ruin the next few weeks of your life.
Basically, poison ivy gets its reputation from an oil called urushiol; it’s like invisible motor oil. You can’t see it, but it is there. It gets absorbed in the skin where your body begins to launch an immune response, creating the rash. The severity of the rash can depend on how much exposure to the urushiol you received and how much your body absorbed.
You can mitigate, to a degree, how severely you react by washing the exposed area with soap and water. You can use rubbing alcohol as well. Keep in mind, time is important. Washing or using alcohol to remove the oils should be done within 5-10 minutes of contact to reduce the risk of developing a reaction. There are also special products made for the removal of urushiol, such as Tecnu.
If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself with a rash, you can use cool compresses, calamine lotion, take a cool oatmeal bath or use over the counter corticosteroids. If it is more severe, or located on the face, you should see your doctor who may then recommend a prescription strength topical steroid or oral steroids.
If you feel like taking on the challenge of eradicating poison ivy from your yard or garden there are a number of methods you can use. You can go for the poison, effective but can be toxic (think Roundup). There are natural methods, like vinegar with detergent and salt, not toxic but limited effectiveness. (It takes several rounds. If you are determined, you can get it done.) There is pulling it out, but only for the brave, the bold and the not severely allergic. If you take this approach, make sure you have on long sleeves and use dishwashing gloves that are pretty thick. (Urushiol can penetrate latex gloves). You will need to wash your clothes and wipe down any non-washable surfaces with alcohol to get rid of the plant oils. (If you track urushiol all through the house, be prepared to be the least popular family member of the house. Seriously, they will not like you for a couple of weeks.)
And finally, (and I’m adding this with ulterior motives), there are always goats. They love the stuff. They may also eat anything else you have growing, but the poison ivy will be gone. If you cannot commit to owning (or, perhaps a spouse is very adamant you do not buy a goat or 3), you can rent them for a couple of weeks. But owning is probably better, just saying.
- Brooke Rieth FNP