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June 2011

Avoiding Poison Ivy

Summer is upon us and in this issue of our monthly newsletter, we offer advice on how to steer clear of the irritating poison ivy.

As ER docs, we have seen the potential devastating impact that a high dose of the poisonous plant can have — especially if you are allergic to it. Fortunately, if you know what it looks like, you can avoid it. And if you are exposed, we offer tips on what you can do to tame its impact.

We also want to thank the Arlington and Northern Virginia community for stopping by our booth at the 16th Annual Columbia Pike Blues Festival on June 18.

Dozens of attendees stopped by for free blood pressure checks, and to pick up a Simplicity magnet for their fridge so that — just in case — they know where to come for their urgent care needs. Kudos to Takis Karantonis and his team at the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization for a job well done. We’ll be back in 2012!

Until next month, here’s to your good health. — Drs. John Jones and John Maguire, co-owners, www.SimplicityUrgentCare.com

Dealing with Contact Dermatitis

By Dr. John Jones
Simplicity Urgent Care

The path to my children’s elementary school leads me and my four little ones through a wooded park with a small bridge that takes us over a little brook. While it looks idyllic, I happened to glance off the path this month and spotted what appeared to be a field of poison ivy.

After much reminding that “leaves of three, let it be,” the kids have kept on the path. However, this experience encouraged me to share with you how to identify, avoid, and deal with a case of poison ivy.

What it looks like: Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) grows along stream banks, roadways, fields, and forests. The compound leaf consists of three pointed leaflets, usually two to four inches long, and the middle one often has a longer stalk. The edges — smooth, toothed, or lobed — are glossy and reddish when they emerge in the spring, then become yellow toward the fall. Also, yellowish-green flowers appear in June or July, followed by light-colored berries.

What you need to know: Poison ivy and poison oak are in the cashew family and are actually not made of ivy or oak. While direct contact with the plant itself is the most common method of exposure, you can also get the rash from indirect contact — such as by touching clothing, shoes, or pets that have been in contact with the plant’s resin, called urushiol, which is widely distributed throughout the leaves, stems, and roots. For those who are very sensitive, simply being downwind of burning poison ivy can cause a reaction, including inflammation of the lungs.

For what do to if you are exposed, check our tips (right).

Source: Fairfax County Goverment

Caring for the Rash

1. What to do if you have been exposed. The rash usually develops within 24 to 48 hours, but can sometimes take up to a week. As is typical with any rash, it will be a very itchy red rash that will develop into blisters that may be filled with clear fluid.

Exposure to the fluid itself will not cause the rash to spread, or cause another person to have poison ivy, since the resin is not present in the fluid from the blisters. If left untreated, the rash usually resolves itself in seven to 10 days.

2. The initial symptoms of poison ivy/oak include:

• Itchy skin, red streaks, or overall redness where the plant brushed against your skin.
• A rash, small bumps, or bigger hives (larger raised areas).
• Fluid-filled blisters that may seep or leak.

More serious symptoms include:

• Swelling of the face, mouth, neck, genitals, or eyelids (which may prevent the eyes from opening).
• Widespread, large blisters that ooze large amounts of fluid.

3. How to relieve the symptoms. The first line of treatment is placing cold, wet compresses on the rash for 15 to 20 minutes, several times per day. Baths with Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, made with oatmeal, can be very soothing and help minimize the itching. Benedryl tablets can also help with the itching.

4. Steroids are an option. In bad cases of poison ivy exposure, steroids can also be helpful. Initially treatment is topical steroids, however more serious exposures can require oral steroids such as prednisone. I always advise patients that occasionally after they finish their prescription, the rash can return if their body has not processed the resin entirely.

5. In a nutshell: Do enjoy your summer, but be careful to avoid poison ivy. If you are exposed:
• Wash the area quickly with soap and water.
• If you develop a rash, try cool compresses or Aveeno oatmeal soap baths.
• If symptoms persist, or you are increasingly uncomfortable, do consult your physician.

As always, contact us any time with your urgent care questions, 703 746-0111.

Photo credit: Livestrong.com