While we are still in the season for picnicking, hiking and camping, keep your eyes open for outdoor dangers. One of these is poison ivy, a plant that can cause painful, itching blisters on any part of the body, including eyelids. Twenty-five million to 40 million Americans require medical attention each year after being exposed to poison ivy or one of its cousins, poison oak and poison sumac.
The culprit in these plants is a resin or oil called Urushiol. The reaction to Urushiol is a form of allergic contact dermatitis, called Rhus dermatitis for the genus of that plant family. Over half the population is sensitive with 10 percent to 15 percent being highly sensitive. A mild case lasts from five to 12 days but a severe case can last up to 30 days.
As with many problems, the best remedy is prevention. “Leaves of three, let it be,” is a good adage to remember to help you identify the plant with leaves in groups of three. If you do come in contact with the plant, wash with soap and cool water to remove the oil. Warm water can open the pores of the skin, allowing the oil to get into the skin. Also wash your clothes and any tools or camping gear. Don’t forget to wipe your shoes. If your pet has run through poison ivy, bathe him. The oil can remain active for up to three weeks after exposure and cause a new outbreak in anyone who touches it.
If despite your precautions, you get a poison ivy rash, you can use an over-the-counter lotion such as calamine, use cool compresses or take cool baths. If it is more severe, your doctor can prescribe topical and oral steroids. If you have a rash near your eyes, call us immediately. All our doctors at The Eye Care Institute are able to prescribe treatment to alleviate a poison ivy outbreak and let you get back to enjoying your summer and fall.