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Leaves of three, let them be!

Leaves of three, let them be!

- Mary Catlett, NP, Valley Health Shenandoah Memorial Hospital Family Medicine | Mt. Jackson

It’s that time of year when we love to go tromping through the woods and be one with nature.

It’s also that time of year when we, as healthcare Providers, see poison ivy rashes. As a Camp Nurse, and Nurse Practitioner, I have had many encounters with the rash and the itching and discomfort that rash can produce. Here are some of the things I have learned that might be helpful to know.

First, if you plan to commune with nature, dress appropriately. Wear long socks or long pants to avoid skin contact with the plant. Poison Ivy generally appears as three leaves that have irregular shapes. The leaves are shiny and should be avoided. The rash appears after exposure to the oil on the plant called urushiol. If you think you have been exposed during outside activities, make sure you wash your skin with soap and water immediately!

Once the rash appears, it will be red and may have tiny blisters along the line of exposure. If the blisters, pop, this will not spread the rash…only the oil spreads the rash, so make sure you wash your clothes, bed sheets, and the towel you used when cleaning yourself from an exposure.

For treatment of the rash and its symptoms:

  1. Apply cool compresses to the skin.
  2. Use topical treatments to relieve itching, including calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, or Domeboro solution available over the counter at many local stores. Benadryl cream and Hydrocortisone creams are also available over the counter (OTC).
  3. Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra may also help (All of these medications are now generic so if you look for the brand name, the generic will be next to it, and it will be cheaper!)
  4. If you scratch, (and you probably will), make sure you watch the rash to ensure you don’t get a secondary infection. Increased redness, pain, drainage may indicate infection. OTC antibiotic ointments are also available for use in these situations.
  5. For a more sever rash, see you’re your health-care provider who may prescribe an oral corticosteroid (such as prednisone).

Have fun this summer, but always remember, “Leaves of three, let them be!”

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