Enjoying nature? Poisonous plants to know before you go

Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia. 041621. Dan Watson/The Signal
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia. 041621. Dan Watson/The Signal

By Patrick Moody, spokesman for Henry Mayo  

Are you looking to head to other parts of the country for some camping or hiking? First, it’s good to brush up on how to spot a few poisonous plants: namely, poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. 

These plants shouldn’t be burned either. The smoke could irritate your lungs. 

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac thrive in many areas of the country, even in some backyards.  

Leaves of three 

You may have heard the saying, “Leaves of three, let it be!” It can help you remember what poison ivy and poison oak (though not poison sumac) look like. But keep in mind: Poison ivy and poison oak plants sometimes vary, so don’t rely on this rule alone. 

Poison ivy can be a ropy vine or a low-growing shrub, depending on the variety. The leaves grow in clusters of three. They may be shiny green, turning red in fall. The plants may have yellow or green flowers and greenish-yellow, white or amber berries. Poison ivy grows across the United States, except here in California, in Alaska, and in Hawaii. 

Poison oak grows as a shrub with leaves that form groups of three. The Pacific variety may grow as a vine.  

How to treat a rash 

Avoidance is your best defense. But what if, despite your best efforts, you do come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac? Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends: First, wash your skin with cool, soapy water as soon as possible to remove the oil. Do your best to scrub under the nails, too, where the noxious oil may be trapped. 

To ease the itch: 

  • Apply wet compresses. 
  • Use an over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone skin cream. Be careful to avoid getting these products on areas with broken blisters. 
  • Take a soothing colloidal oatmeal bath. 
  • Ask your pharmacist about an over-the-counter antihistamine. 

If the rash covers a large area or spreads to the face or genitals, see your doctor. If there are signs of a severe allergic reaction—such as swelling of the face or difficulty breathing—call 911 or go to the emergency room. 

For more information, visit HenryMayo.com. 

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