Healthcare TipsUncategorized

Poison Ivy vs Poison Oak: Do’s, Dont’s & How To Tell The Difference

May 22, 2024

Poison Ivy vs Poison Oak – how can you tell the difference (and does it really matter)? While the appearance is different the effects are similar. Read on to find out how to protect yourself, and what to do if you’re exposed.

Poison Ivy vs Poison Oak: What To Look Out For

Like a lot of people, you may have spent years being “on the lookout” for poison ivy and poison oak as you spend time outdoors. However, you may not have a clear idea of what you’re actually looking out for. Let’s change that!

Poison ivy grows low to the ground, either as a vine or as a shrub. In the midwest it’s more likely to grow in the vine form. Remember this: “Leaves of three, let it be!” If you see a plant with three shiny leaves your best option is to stay away. The edges tend not to be smooth, appearing more sharply notched (think of a holly bush leaf – without the prickles). 

Poison Oak also grows with groups of three leaves. However, the edges are more rounded (like an oak leaf) and you can see tiny hairs on the surface of the leaf. There may also be yellow or white berries and green or white flowers present. The top of the leaf will appear darker than the underside.

What should you do if you come into contact with them?

Whether you encounter poison ivy or poison oak, the effects are similar. These plants emit an agitating oil, called urushiol. When this oil touches your skin it causes itchiness and a rash that can last up to three weeks. If you suspect you’ve touched poison ivy or poison oak the best thing to do is to wash the area immediately with soap and water to remove the oil. You will also want to remove any clothes that may have brushed up against the plants. Once the oil is removed from your body you cannot spread the rash, either across your own body or to someone else.

It’s estimated that 85-90% of people will have an allergic reaction to poison ivy and poison oak. While there are numerous over-the-counter remedies that can alleviate your itchy symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if the rash occurs near your eyes or if it covers a large area of your body. Some people will greatly benefit from taking oral steroids that combat both swelling and itchiness.

As with most medical events the best remedy is prevention. To protect yourself and your family from exposure to poison ivy and poison oak take precautions when out in nature. Wear long pants and stay on the trails, which typically are cleared of poisonous plants. If you are attempting to remove poison ivy or poison oak from your property make sure to wear gloves, wash clothing immediately after, and keep your shoes outdoors. Never burn poison ivy or poison oak in an attempt to eradicate it. The urushiol can get into the air and irritate you internally if it’s inhaled or if the smoke gets in your eyes. Instead, dig it out from the roots, bag it in a plastic bag and dispose of it.

While it’s tough to eliminate exposure to poison ivy and poison oak completely, with knowledge of what you’re looking for and by taking some precautions you can enjoy the outdoors without irritation. 

Top 7 Reasons Gateway is Great for a Busy Summer