Pesky Poison Ivy

Posted at: 07/31/2013 5:00 PM | Updated at: 07/31/2013 10:41 PM
By: Brittany Falkers

Poison Ivy can grow just about anywhere in our region, especially in Minnesota, and on Park Point in Duluth that's no exception.  The shiny three-leafed plant shows up on the popular local spot each year on the trails, in the sand and even toppling over some walkways.

"Man it's thick, it's creeping up on the the boardwalk," beach goer Larry McCulley Said. 

It's a pain for anyone trying to stay itch free on the beach.  But for those with a serious sensitivity to the plant, it can mean a permanent mark.  McCulley says he manages to tangle with poison ivy every summer, but last year a big patch on his leg sent him to the doctor's office and left a scar, several inches long.
 
"Last summer I had a particularly good case.  So I ended up going to the doctor and getting some medicine for it," McCulley said.  "It left me a little scar, a little reminder."

Most people know those signifier rhymes that are meant to help you identify the plant; such as "leaves of three, let it be" or "hairy vine, no friend of mine."  Yet, year after year outdoor enthusiasts hit up the drug store for calamine lotion and hydrocortisone to get rid of the nasty itch they just somehow got from a romp though the woods.

Dr. Andrew Broadmoore is a physician with St. Luke's.  He says that irritating rash is really just your immune system over-reacting to poison ivy's oil.  "When the plant is bruised or damaged in some way, if you get that oil on your skin, then it kind of seeps into the skin and causes and allergic reaction," he said.

That allergic reaction factor is why anti-itch ointments are good enough for some, while antibiotics are necessary to treat others, Broadmoore said.  Some, more extreme reactions or unbearable rashes require medical treatment.  An overwhelming rash many require corticosteroid treatment, such as prednisone. 

"I don't see a huge amount because some people get fairly mild rashes, but for those who get really miserable rashes to the point where they can't sleep.  Those are the one's that usually come into the doctor," Broadmoore said.

Reaction times really very when it comes to poison ivy.  For those who are very sensitive to the plant, a rash may appear within four hours.  However, it might not show up for days or even weeks in others, according to Broadmoore.

"Every body's immune systems are different. So, some people will react on first exposure," Broadmoore said.  "Some people will never react at all depending on their immune systems."

Fast action after coming into contact with poison ivy is your best bet in avoiding that relentless rash, according to Broadmoore.  He says to wash your skin with soapy water, preferably with a detergent soap, within two hours of exposure, the sooner the better.

Protective clothing will help to avoid skin exposure. However, the plant's oil sticks to shoes and clothes.  So, Broadmoore recommends washing those right away as well.

Poison ivy can be a real nuisance for beach goers, but for those with wandering pets.  Sharon Manns bring her dog Byron to Park Point for exercise often, but says she won't even trust a retractable leash to keep him out of it.

"He [Byron] loves to be out. He loves to be on trails," Mannsa said.  "But the thing thing we have to remember, when walking on the trails here because of the poison ivy, is to keep him on a short leash."

The plant can be a pain, but getting rid of poison ivy can be even trickier.  If you try to dig up the plants or pull them, be careful.  The roots secrete some of the most potent oils and can be very dangerous, Broadmoore said.  Burning the plant puts the oils in the air and can cause respiratory problems.  Broadmoore says even dead poison ivy can cause a skin reaction.  So, he suggests to avoid it if at all possible.  

"Visit Park Point.  I think it's wonderful, it's one of our best assets in Duluth, but just be watchful.  Be Aware," Manns said.  "it's like the rip tides or anything else, you just have to be aware of your surroundings... And in Park Point a reality is that there is poison ivy."

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