“Leaflets three, let them be”

May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and it’s important to remember some of the less known allergies people might experience. One of these allergies comes from poison ivy and similar plants.

You might not know, but the rash you get from poison ivy, oak and sumac is the result of an allergic reaction.

Like other allergies, not everyone is allergic to these plants. About 15% of people don’t experience any reaction when they come into contact with these plants.

For those who are allergic, the reaction stems from an oil found on the leaves of these plants, and effects can vary from person to person. Some only get a minor rash, while others might experience  blisters.

Avoid the plants if you can

Reactions can come from direct contact with your skin, or indirect contact with pets or objects that have touched the leaves of these plants.

To avoid poison ivy and poison oak during a walk or hike, you should know what the plants look like. “Leaflets three, let them be” is a useful old saying, referring to the telltale trio of leaves on the plants. Covering your skin with long sleeves and pants can also help, just be sure to wash everything after you get home.

Treatment options

If you can’t avoid the plants, wash the affected area with mild soap and lukewarm water as soon as possible after contact. Your family doctor can also prescribe topical creams to use on the rash. Cool showers or a mixture of baking soda and water applied to the area can also relieve itching. Contrary to popular belief, itching won’t make the rash spread, but it will make the healing process longer.

Summer is great for getting outside and experiencing nature. If you can avoid plants like poison ivy, it’ll be that much easier to enjoy the great outdoors.