A while back in the early part of the spring, I wrote on here about learning to identify the difference between poison ivy, oak, sumac, etc....And now that we're getting a bit deeper into summer, poison ivy seems to be everywhere. I've already had a tiny touch of it from mowing the lawn out to camp. It sucks.

In fact, I was driving home from work last night, and saw a dude who had been clearing trees on his property, and his legs were covered in it. To be honest though, besides poison ivy, there's a million reasons why that guy shouldn't be clearing trees in shorts, but that's not my problem....

As I was cruising the web, I came across an article on NPR.com asking if people could really tell what poison ivy looks like. We all have our old-wives-tale idea of what we're supposed to be looking for. You know, like the good old standby, "leaves of three, let it be". But as this article asked, can you really tell?

It seems from one plant to the next, or sometimes even on the same plant, it's size, shape, and color can vary widely. Which basically mean, that poison ivy is pretty much a higher evolved species than us, and is actively trying to conceal itself so it can destroy us all and take over the planet. You may think I'm joking, but I've got a few dozen 1950's sci-fi movies to back up my claim, couple with an irrational fear of plants.

Just look how all these are the same plant, but look entirely differently:

In the article, they've listed a few things to look for, and what you can do about them should they pop up:

  • If you even suspect you brushed up against the plant, wash with soap and water within a few hours. This tends to prevent an outbreak in most people.
  • To confirm you touched poison ivy, you can try what's known as the "black dot test" — but proceed with caution! With gloved hands, tear the leaf in half, put the sap on a piece of white paper. If it's poison ivy, the urushiol oil will turn black in 30 minutes. This is the same reason black dots appear on some of the plants.
  • Keep an eye out for a streaky, red rash in the first few days, especially if you've had a poison ivy reaction before. For poison ivy newbies, the rash could take a week to develop. Repeat customers can start breaking out in a day or two. Rather than building immunity, multiple exposures can make someone more sensitive, priming the immune system to produce a more "robust" response.
  • When a rash appears, dermatologists recommend soothing it with anti-itch or corticosteroid cream.
  • And if it gets really bad, go to the doctor, especially if the rash involves sensitive areas like the mouth or genitals.
  • Steroids and anti-itch medicine don't always solve the whole problem and medicine has little else to offer. If you're still in agony, cold compresses or a bath with oatmeal may help soothe your skin.
  • If your pup came along with you on the outing that exposed you to poison ivy, never fear. Dogs are not allergic — but their fur can definitely hold the oil and transfer it to their owner, so have care with petting your dog after hiking past poison ivy.

At this time, there's not much that doctors can do besides prescribe a stronger corticosteroid ointment than you can purchase over the counter, and give you a pat on the back and wish you well. However, there may be some hope. There have been some human clinical trials for an antibody that could help reduce the swelling caused by proteins that irritate the nerve fibers in your skin. It all sound pretty doctor-y to me, but if it'll make the itchies go away, I'm all for it.

The real takeaway here, is that poison ivy does what it wants. It grows low to the ground, it will climb walls (especially in urban areas), and even sprout some small green berries that make it even more confusing to identify. So really, just stay out of the woods. Hahahaha....I'm kidding.

But really, take the time to look around you, and know your surroundings. It will be wildly unpleasant if you get it, so an extra bit of prevention can go a long way. So get out and enjoy your summer!