During the summer months, children and adults are more likely to be exposed to poison ivy and ticks. Here are some things to know about them.
What is poison ivy?
Poison ivy is a poisonous flowering plant with three almond-shaped leaflets, common to North America.
What are the symptoms of poison ivy?
In most people, poison ivy causes an allergic reaction that typically presents as a rash. For a first time exposure, it can take more than a week for the rash to develop. A second or third (or more) exposure typically appears more quickly, within 8 to 48 hours. The rash appears as red streaks or general redness, raised bumps or fluid filled blisters, and the skin is itchy, irritated, and sometimes painful.
Is poison ivy contagious?
Poison ivy is spread by exposure to urushiol, an oil produced by the plant. A person can spread poison ivy to another person or other parts of their body as long as the oil remains on their fingers. Once the oil is no longer present (no exposure to the plant, hands and other exposed parts have been washed), there is no opportunity to spread it to another person. Still, the rash can also be spread to other parts of the body by scratching it and opening the blisters.
How is poison ivy treated?
Most rashes from poison ivy can be treated at home. If the rash is on the face, near the eyes, or close to genitalia, it is recommended that you see your primary care provider. While most rashes disappear without treatment within 1 to 3 weeks, the healing skin is often itchy. To help soothe the skin and relieve itching, a cold compress, lavender essential oil, calamine lotion, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, or an antihistamine can be used. To avoid making the allergic reaction worse, do not scratch the rash, and clip nails short.
Poison ivy can also be treated with a charcoal poultice (made of cornstarch, charcoal powder, and water) to help draw out the oil from the affected area.
How can poison ivy be prevented?
Be aware of and avoid areas where you know poisonous plants grow. Teach your children what poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac look like. (Oak and sumac are poisonous plants which cause a similar reaction and are prevented and treated the same as poison ivy.) Cover up with closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves when working or playing in forested areas.
If you or your child does get exposed, wash the skin with soap and water as quickly as possible (pine tar soap works well). Scrub under the nails to prevent the oil from spreading to other parts of the body.
The main ticks which humans encounter are wood ticks and deer ticks. Deer ticks are much smaller than wood ticks and can transmit Lyme disease (the most common disease spread by ticks). Because ticks left in the skin can transmit bacterial infections to human beings, it is important to be thorough when checking for and removing ticks. See a healthcare provider immediately if a tick has burrowed into the skin or if the head, mouthparts, or other tick body parts cannot be removed. Watch for signs of heat, irritation, redness, or swelling around the area of a tick bite. If you or your child experiences fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes or a bullseye mark, see your primary care provider immediately.
For an effective tick repellant, try using doTerra’s natural bug spray.
When and how do I check for ticks?
Check for ticks after outdoor activities such as gardening, camping, hiking, and playing outdoors. Check your clothing and your body, paying special attention to the following areas: under the arms, in and around the ears, in and around the hair, around the waist and belly button, between the legs, and behind the knees. The sooner a tick is removed (within 24 hours), the less likely it can transmit infection.
How do I remove ticks?
If the tick is attached to a person’s skin, remove it immediately. Wearing gloves, grasp the tick with a clean tweezers as close to the skin as possible to remove the head and mouthparts. Pull the tick straight out gently and steadily. Do not twist. Clean the bite area with warm water and gentle soap. Apply alcohol to the bite wound to prevent infection. Wash your hands.
Do not try to remove the tick with a hot match or petroleum jelly. This could cause the tick to regurgitate infected fluids into the wound.
Save the tick in a container of alcohol if you are concerned about what kind it is and want to show it to a doctor. Otherwise, dispose of it.
NOTE: In the case of a suspicious rash or bite, seeing your primary care provider will ensure you get the most accurate diagnosis and treatment, rather than a general antibiotic, which you would receive at an urgent care facility. Your primary care provider can follow-up with you to make sure the treatment is working, and adjust it if need be.
Enjoy the summer months keeping these precautions in mind!
Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP