A Poison Ivy Survival Guide for Parents

A pediatrician helps parents navigate poison ivy season

Tips to help navigate poison ivy season

“Leaves of three, let it be.”

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Many of us grew up with that handy rule about how to spot poison ivy. But maybe your smaller kids didn’t get the memo yet.

So now it’s poison ivy season again. The kids are playing outside or going off to camp and since they don’t know what to look for, they are a lot more likely to end up with that nasty, itchy, poison ivy rash.

I tell parents to go online or to books for pictures to help your children recognize what poison ivy looks like and to steer clear. Unfortunately, they may still pick up the rash even if they do manage to avoid direct contact with the plant.

Symptoms of poison ivy exposure

The oil that poison ivy secretes is an allergen that causes the rash. You can certainly get the oil on you by touching the plant, but the stuff can also get on clothes, sporting gear, gardening tools, pet fur — you name it. It can be transferred from kid to kid easily.

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How do you know it’s poison ivy rash? Look for these symptoms:

  • Redness and itchiness where the plant touched skin
  • Red streaks where the plant may have swept across skin
  • Small bumps and swelling
  • Fluid-filled blisters that may leak

Treating poison ivy

If you think your child has come into contact with poison ivy and you can get to them in the first 10 or 15 minutes, you can decrease their risk for developing a rash tremendously with these two steps:

  1. Apply rubbing alcohol to the skin that has been exposed
  2. Wash the area well with soap and water

If a rash develops here’s how you can relieve symptoms:

  • Use wet compresses on the area
  • Give them a cool bath
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion, or give them over-the-counter antihistamines

Go to your pediatrician if the rash causes swelling of the face, mouth, neck, genitals or eyelids, or if the blisters are widespread and leak large amounts of fluid.

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Stay away is the best way

Still, the best way for your kids to avoid poison ivy rash is to avoid poison ivy plants. Granted, they can’t always control their exposure from other kids, a ball that rolls into the woods or a T-shirt flung into a bed of poison ivy.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to drill the “leaves of three, let it be” rule into them!

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