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Leaves of three, let them be

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Kentucky Health News

 Season has arrived for poison ivy, oak and sumac; here's plenty of advice on how to deal with them and their rashes

Leaves of three, let them be.

This old childhood rhyme still holds true today, well at least for poison oak and poison ivy. Poison sumac has seven to 13 leaflets on each leaf. But the result is the same: If you come into contact with the oil from their leaves, you are likely to end up with an itchy rash that can last from one to three weeks.

About 85 percent of people will develop an itchy, blistering rash when they come in contact with the oil from these plants, says the American Academy of Dermatology in a news release.

The rash itself isn't contagious, but the oil is, and it can linger on just about any surface: skin, clothes, under fingernails, tools, pets – you get the picture. It can even come through the air if someone is burning brush. So, you can get poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak without stepping one foot into nature.

Avoiding the plants and wearing protective clothing are the two proven ways to avoid getting a rash from these plants.

“If you are absolutely certain that your rash is due to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, and if the rash appears on a small section of your skin, you may be able to treat the rash at home,” Seemal R. Desai, dermatologist from Texas, said in the news release. “However, if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, you experience swelling, or you have many rashes or blisters, go to the emergency room right away.”

The association also recommends going to the emergency room if the rash covers most of your body, if your eyelid swells shut, if the rash develops anywhere on your face or genitals, if much of your skin itches, or nothing seems to ease the itch.

Fortunately, there are simple steps people can take to safely treat a mild rash at home. Here are the association's recommendations for treating mild cases of poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac:

1. Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. Initially take a shower, not a bath, to get the oil off of your body.

2. Wash your clothing.

3. Wash everything that may have come in contact with the oil from the leaves.

4. Do not scratch. Scratching can cause infection.

5. Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.

6. Take short, lukewarm baths to relieve the itch. Add colloidal oatmeal from the drugstore or one cup of baking soda to the running water for additional relief.

7. Consider using calamine lotion or hydro-cortisone cream.

8. Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin.

9. Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. Call your doctor if you are uncertain if you should take an antihistamine.

10. Do not apply a topical antihistamine to your skin; doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.

11. See a dermatologist if the rash has not improved within 10 days.