Fall is a great time to enjoy the beauty of the natural world – changing leaves, crisp weather, and delicious apple cider. But spectacular colors don’t just belong to the harmless leaf piles – fall brings an increased exposure to poison ivy as you rake up leaves and begin to prepare your yard for winter.
Why is Poison Ivy Dangerous?
Poison ivy, and it’s relatives poison oak and poison sumac, contains urushiol, an oily resin that binds to the skin on contact. This oily resin causes a hypersensitivity reaction characterized by itching, burning skin eruptions in many people. It’s found as a clear sap all over the plants leaves and roots, and can be easily transferred from the plant to your clothes or your pets. Additionally, even if you don’t have an allergic reaction to the plant now, you can develop one with repeated exposure. Urushiol oil doesn’t degrade over time like other plant saps, so even handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction.
Even scarier, urushiol remains an active irritant even when burned, causing people who inhale the smoke to cough, itch, and have breathing problems. This is why it’s important to check your leaf piles for pieces of the plants before getting rid of leaves via combustion.
How to Prevent It
Avoiding contact with the plant is, of course, the best prevention. If you spot poison ivy in your yard, consult with a professional landscaper for removal. Never try to remove poison ivy yourself – the root system of the plant is difficult to remove, and “weed whacking” the plant will simply spray the poison ivy—and hence the oil—right at you.
In most places poison ivy grows, you will also find a plant called jewelweed growing close by—especially in moist, shady areas. Jewelweed has been used for centuries to treat poison ivy rashes, as it seems to be a natural remedy. When you are in the field and may have been exposed to poison ivy, pick jewelweed, slice the stem, and rub its juice on your skin to ease irritation and help prevent a breakout.
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