THE HOBBS LIBRARY
Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area has a collection of resource books available to our staff and volunteers. This page is dedicated to showcasing one book at a time and sometimes these books are available for purchase in our gift shop.
This summer we have picked a book titled, "Outwitting Poison Ivy" by Susan Carol Hauser. Chapter 2, page 36 lists some myths and facts about poison ivy.
Want to see what poison ivy looks like without getting too close?! Stop by the Hobbs State Park Visitor Center and stroll through the exhibit hall. Hint: look up, above the rocks.
MYTHS ABOUT POISON IVY, POISON OAK, & POISON SUMAC
Myth: I touch it all the time and don’t react so I must be immune.
According to clinical studies, only 15% of the population is truly immune. Exposed enough times close enough together and to enough urushiol, the other 85% will react.
Myth: I never touched a plant, but I got a reaction. It must travel through the air.
The oil urushiol is not airborne except in smoke and soot. Some common means of invisible exposure include petting cats and dogs that have roamed through the plants, handling wood that vines once grew on, and using contaminated tools.
Myth: I get poison ivy whenever it rains.
The oil urushiol does not travel through rain. It can be present, however, in river or lake water where poison ivy or poison oak leaves and roots trail into the water, or in rain gear previously exposed to the plants.
Myth: Eating the leaves can make you immune.
This dangerous practice can lead to reactions in the mouth, throat, and anus. While theoretically you could become desensitized to urushiol in this way, even the measured doses in allergy shots do not provide predictable relief (more in Chapter 3).
Myth: Drinking the milk of goats that eat poison ivy or oak can make you immune.
The milk of goats that eat poison ivy or oak has been tested. It does not contain urushiol, therefore it cannot desensitize the body to the oil’s presence.
Myth: Eating honey from bees that consume poison ivy, oak, or sumac pollen can make you immune.
Honey made from such pollen does not contain urushiol and therefore cannot desensitize the body to the oil’s presence. (Pollen and flowers do not contain urushiol. All other parts of the plants do, including the berries.)
Myth: If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you can prevent a reaction by washing in very hot or very cold water.
Washing in a lot of water can dilute urushiol, making it harmless. The temperature of the water does not affect urushiol, but hot water opens pores, allowing urushiol to penetrate more easily. Tepid water is best because it is kindest to the skin. After a reaction has occurred, very hot water can release histamines from the skin and thereby reduce itching. Care must be taken to not burn the skin.
Myth: If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you can prevent a reaction by washing with yellow or brown laundry bar soap.
Soap, no matter what kind, has no effect on the oil urushiol. Urushiol must either be neutralized by a solvent, such as rubbing alcohol, or diluted with lots of water. Soap will not cause harm as long as it is used with water. Used with a small amount of water, though, it can spread urushiol.
Myth: Home remedies are useless.
Although they have not been proven effective by scientific method, home remedies, such as herbal compresses and jewelweed (Impatience capenis) washes, bring dramatic relief to some individuals. The mechanism for this is not understood, but as long as the remedy works and causes no harm it should be used.
Myth: You can spread the rash by scratching it or the blisters.
No, you cannot. By the time the reaction shows up, the oil urushiol, which causes the rash, is long gone. It bonded with the skin within a few minutes to a few hours of exposure. The fluid in blisters is made by the body and does not contain urushiol. New rashes arise either from the original exposure (some sites take longer to develop) or from new contact with urushiol, perhaps on objects or clothing.
Myth: Scrubbing the skin with ammonia, kerosene, gasoline, or other chemicals will cure the rash.
Harsh chemicals have no effect on a rash once it is in progress- and they can distress and damage the skin. Washing with a solvent such as rubbing alcohol within a few hours of exposure can prevent a reaction (it neutralized urushiol and can even leach it out of the skin), but washing with it later than that will have no positive effect).
Myth: It’s okay to scratch.
Scratching a rash or blisters further aggravates the skin and can cause neural (nerve) dermatitis, itching that remains after the reaction is gone. If you cannot resist scratching, see a doctor. Prescription medications can stop the itch. Corticosteroid tablets and injections actually stop the allergic reaction caused by urushiol. Blisters aleady developed will stop itching, and new ones will not form. The sooner the treatment is begun, the faster and more dramatic the relief.
Poison Ivy in the Summer:
A poison ivy plant in the Fall; it can be a bush (above) or a vine (below)