Poison Ivy Management

May 28, 2012

in Ephemera, Seen on my commute

Believe it or not, this isn’t a post on a management school of thought called, “Poison Ivy” although some days that might be an excellent management system.

I’m very allergic to poison ivy and I really don’t like getting it.  Most years I can avoid it.  Some years I can’t; this was one of those years.  Here’s a repository of all thing poison ivy avoidance and management – this is helpful for the Boston area only.

Why avoid poison ivy:

  • PI oil stays on clothes, tires, pedals, brake levers, and anything it touches.  Even months later you can still get a rash if you touch those items that have been contaminated.  The oil can remain active for a couple years.  Even washing clothing does not typically remove all  poison ivy oil.
  • The more often you get it, the worse you tend to get it.  It is an allergic reaction.
  • Most people are allergic to it.  It’s super unfun to get it.  Very itchy in a bad way and it lasts for a couple-three weeks.
  • The poison ivy rash can cause long-term scarring.
  • When I get it people tend to puke in their mouths a bit when they see the rash or scarring.  Although people seem to do this when I’m around – regardless of whether I have poison ivy or not.

What poison ivy looks like:

Poison ivy is a bit tricky because it looks like a lot of other plants.  Here are some ways to distinguish it – in the Boston area:

  • “Leaves of three; let it be.”  Three leaves per grouping – on each stem.  Typically the orientation of the leaves is like a playing card club – leaves are about 90 degrees to each other.
  • Leaves are shiny with oil.  Later season it tends to dry out.
  • It’s very low to the ground.  Never more than a foot high – usually around 10″ tall.  It can grow up to 4 feet high but I’ve never seen it that tall in the Boston area.
  • Leaf edges are smooth – no edge serrations or designs.
  • It’s very bright deep green during season.  Smaller leaves are lighter green; bigger leaves are deeper green.  Early season leaves are red and then turn to a pale green.  Late season leaves are reddish.
here’s a photo…

How to avoid poison ivy:

  • Know what it looks like.
  • Don’t crash into it.
  • It grows in shaded areas.
  • It tends to not grow in grass; it doesn’t like competition.
  • Unfortunately it tends to grow around edges of shaded areas – not too shaded.  This often means the edges of trails – on which you’re riding.
  • Don’t ride in those areas during poison ivy season:  From May through September, depending on how wet and warm are the spring and fall.
  • Try this:  Invisible Glove.  I’ve never used this.
  • Take poison ivy pills to build up immunity.

What to do if you frolic in poison ivy:

  • You have to wash up within minutes otherwise it’s too late.  Scrub with detergent and cold water.  Cold water is better than hot; cold water closes pores; hot water opens pores.
  • Shoes, gloves, clothing, and bikes that come in contact with the plan need to be washed.  Poison ivy oil can be active for a couple years.  Unfortunately, washing leather and suede doesn’t always remove all the oil.  Some people recommend Fels-Naptha as a home remedy for washing leather and suede.
  • Jewel Weed.  It typically grows in the vicinity of poison ivy.  Yellow flowers.  Thanks Matt Roy!
  • Tecnu works marginally better than soap.  I have not had good success with this.

What to do if you get poison ivy:

  • Symptoms appear within 3-7 days.  And last about 1-3 weeks.  Yay.
  • Once you’ve got it you cannot pass it on to others.  Even if you have lesions that leak, the liquid does not contain urushiol.
  • Hot water – as hot as you can stand it – helps reduce itching immediately and for a few hours, but also opens pores so it can help spread the rash.  Hot water helps draw out histamines that make the area itch.
  • Calamine lotion has no proven benefit.

 Random notes:

  • I heard from Matt Roy that one of the reasons that poison ivy is so prevalent in the Boston area is that it was actually a crop raised by farmers.  Why would someone raise this?  Apparently its very high in vitamin C, cows are not allergic to it.  Farmers used poison ivy to feed cows.  Great.

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