Aug 3, 2012
Poison Ivy to Become More Toxic Thanks to Climate Change
Have you ever suffered from an allergic reaction to poison ivy? If you have you are not alone - around 80% of people who come into contact with this innocent-looking plant get some kind of skin reaction to it.
It is direct contact with the potent. toxic oil that the plant produces, called urushiol, which causes the reaction, and it's a plant that can lull you into a false sense of security. Just because you have come into contact with poison ivy on several occasions and not had a rash doesn't necessarily mean that you won't in future. Usually the first reaction can take anywhere up to 10 days to develop.
What's somewhat depressing however is that thanks to climate change, we may soon be seeing more poison ivy around and it may be more toxic. A report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program says that carbon dioxide tends to favour the proliferation of undesirable plants.
"Poison ivy thrives in air with extra carbon dioxide in it, growing bigger and producing a more toxic form of the oil, urushiol," it states."The growth stimulation of poison ivy due to increasing carbon dioxide concentration exceeds that of most other woody species. Given continued increases in carbon dioxide
emissions, poison ivy is expected to become more abundant and more toxic in the future, with implications
for forests and human health."
Poison ivy identification.
For those of you who have no idea what poison ivy looks like here are some pictures. Remember "leaves of three let it be". Poison ivy always has three leaves with serrated edges that look somewhat waxy. It grows in wooded, shady areas and isn't found in open meadows or bright sunshine. The leaves will turn bright red in Autumn and small, white berries form on the plant. Although toxic to humans poison ivy does provide food for deer.
How to recognise a poison ivy reaction
The first sign of a reaction to the toxins in poison ivy is usually an itchy skin rash that appears as faint, reddish splotches on the skin. The itching becomes gradually more intense and after a few hours to several days small, watery blisters will form. Depending on the severity they may go away quickly or turn into oozing sores which eventually dry up and form scabs. It's really important not to scratch as these sores can easily become infected.
After contact with poison-ivy you should wash with soap and water, as soap helps remove the toxic oil from the skin. Wash and rinse several times. The sooner after exposure you wash and the better you clean away the oil, there will be less likelihood of a reaction developing, and if it does, it may not be as severe.
How to treat poison ivy.
There are various folk remedies and over the counter medications that are said to help poison ivy. Their effectiveness will depend on the severity of the rash and perhaps to a certain extent, the belief of the sufferer in the efficacy of the remedy. Most give relief from the itching rather than being an effective cure.
Antihistamines can help reduce the intensity of the body's reaction, but need to be taken soon after exposure so are often only useful for repeat sufferers.
Calamine lotion, oatmeal baths or soothing compresses can help reduce soreness and itching. A couple of recipes from a factsheet from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs:
"Make a compress with equal parts of milk and cold water in a bowl with ice cubes. Soak a face cloth, towel or other cloth in the solution, wring it out lightly and apply to the affected area several times a day for 2 or 3 days. Other solutions for compresses can be made with baking soda."
Anyone suffering from a severe reaction should always consult a doctor, who may need to prescribe medications.
It's also really important to clean any clothing that may have come into contact with poison ivy by washing a few times in soap and warm water to avoid repeat exposure.
The absolute best way to avoid poison ivy is - don't go near it.