Perilous Poison Ivy

Picture of poison ivy here

Poison ivy plant

Contrary to the assertion in my first post that I would be detailing my adventures in sequential order, none shall be in order. Nor shall they be as timely as I hoped. It turns out, owning a home consumes vast amounts of time without making you feel like you have achieved very much for your efforts. However, a little over six months in there has been some measurable progress. The electrical system is now grounded, there is a new kitchen floor, the front room has new flooring and a lovely paint job. All of these and many more will be the subject of future blog posts.

However, in this post I want to cover something that I consider to be the upmost of importance. Dealing with Poison Ivy. All of my life I’ve had the luxury and blessing of not being allergic to poison ivy. I always said “immune” but technically this isn’t how you would describe a lack of reaction to poison ivy. Having never had to deal with the wretched reaction, I was poorly prepared to identify the tale tale signs of it on my skin. Therefore, it spread. I’ll spare the details, but two steroid shots and a rather intense regiment of steroid pills over the next two weeks managed to take care of the issue. I will say that between the two shots and before the pills I experimented with Zanfel, which provided heavenly, if short lived, relief but did little to reverse the reaction.  At $35 a bottle, it’s a pricey remedy.

However, it apparently takes more than one lesson to teach me and a short two months later I had it again (despite my best efforts at protecting myself.  This time I skipped the suffering and experimenting and went straight to the steroids (though this was a measurably smaller reaction).  In the course of this reaction I experimented with applying bleach to the affected area.  I’ve heard about this from friends over the years, and it probably isn’t recommended by anyone holding a medical degree, but it seemed to be effective.  Essentially, I scratched the heck out of the affected area while holding it under water.  Then took a paper towel dipped in standard Clorox bleach and dabbed the area.  It burns in a rather unpleasant way because bleach burns your skin.  So I’m not advocating you do this, just recounting my experience for the general knowledge of humanity here.  Shortly afterward the reaction cleared up, but I couldn’t tell if it was the bleach or the steroids or a bit of both.

A few weeks later I was on my roof cleaning out the gutters.  Three years of buildup in gutters creates a full fledged ecosystem with all of the necessary ingredients for growing things.  After pulling out three foot weeds and a whole lot of dirt I came inside and notice my arm was itching in a tell tell way.  Realizing I felt oil over the area that was itching and saw small red bumps beginning to rise I immediately washed the area thoroughly with dish soap and warm water (dish soap actually cuts the oil the same way it does grease on your pans, typical soap won’t do as an effective of a job and may just spread it around).  Once it was clean I quickly dabbed on some bleach with a paper towel, endured the burn for a few seconds and rinsed again.  Then waited to see what would happen.

The result was complete success.  The oil had barely penetrated my skin so between the washing and the bleach it took care of the problem.

Poison Ivy Lesson 1

Don’t get poison ivy in the first place.  Wear protective clothing and completely cover yourself.  The best shirt I’ve found for protecting my arms is one that has thumb holes at the end of the sleeves.  This allows the sleeve to extend all the way under the gloves you should be wearing and keeps them from creaping up your arm as you work.  It isn’t pleasant to wear such heavy clothing in the summer so anything that can wait until the cool fall or cold winter weather should be put off accordingly.  Once the work is done, wash the clothes immediately (the oil can stay on unwashed clothes indefinitely and cause reactions later) along with your hands, arms, and anywhere else that could have possibly received even the smallest does of urushiol.

There are a number of treatments out there, including a preventative ointment that you apply before working around poison ivy.  I can’t personally say I’ve had experience with these but I’d love to hear what anyone else has tried that proved effective.

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