Climate Change Brings Super Poison Ivy

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Climate change isn’t just increasing outdoor temperatures and warming up the oceans. It may also greatly increase your chances of getting a really bad case of allergic reaction, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Burning poison ivy plants can release urushiol particles into the air.

When the oil gets on the skin, it can penetrate in minutes, according to the AAD.

“Once it is absorbed, there is not much you can do,” Ziska adds.

“Most people don’t know they have come into contact until hours later or even longer, when they start reacting,” says David Peng, MD, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles. He runs the contact calamine lotion. You can also take Benadryl (available over the counter) by mouth to help calm down the allergic reaction. Be aware that Benadryl pills will likely make you sleepy — not such a bad thing if you’re itching to death.

Hydrocortisone cream, 1% strength, over the counter, can also help.

Poison Ivy Treatment: When to Seek Professional Help

A typical case of poison ivy generally subsides within a week or so, says Wally Ghurabi, DO, chief of emergency services at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.

But not always. If your poison ivy rash and discomfort seem to get worse, it may be time to see your doctor or even go to your local emergency department. “When you see increased redness and swelling, when the area is warm to the touch and the rash is spreading, go to the doctor,” Ghurabi says.

Difficult as it is, do not scratch the area, he adds.

Ghurabi has seen emergency department patients with widespread poison ivy rashes. Depending on the body part exposed to the oil, the rash can get very uncomfortable, he says. Sometimes, a secondary infection can set in, he says, and things can turn serious, such as a bloodstream infection requiring hospitalization.

Prevention Plan

Avoiding poison ivy is the best bet, researchers agree. “Leaves of three, let it be” is the motto repeated by the experts. Each leaf of the poison ivy plant has three leaflets.

An over-the-counter product containing bentoquatam (IvyBlock) is effective, according to Peng, if applied before exposure. It literally provides a physical barrier, he says, so the oil can’t penetrate the skin.

Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, though not always plausible in the summer heat, is also recommended, as well as wearing socks and shoes to garden.