When I first looked to purchase my house, I wanted a backyard so my kids can enjoy it. The house I found had a nice fenced in backyard that led into untouched woodlands. I saw this was my little piece of heaven. The first step was to clean up the overgrowth in the backyard. Next was to ignore the weird-looking plants until I figured out exactly what was what. Plants such as poison sumac (#poisonsumac) and poison ivy were the last thing on my mind.
The clean up went well and my vision was to make my lawn looked pristine and weed free. As a result of a hard day of lawn care, I sat down and enjoyed a refreshing beer. I was feeling a sense of accomplishment until I took a quick look at my arm. I began to notice a small rash on both of my forearms. At first, I didn’t think anything about the rash. It seemed more like a bunch of mosquito bites. However, the next day, my jaw dropped as the rash had spread to most of my forearms.
My first mistake was the attempt at a self diagnosis. I searched all of the medical websites to determine the cause of the rash and the treatment options. I had come to the conclusion the it was poison oak. I then searched the property boundary looking for the plant in question. In the meantime, I tried to resist scratching which wasn’t going well. I started to apply calamine lotion which eased the itching feeling. It only got worse. I broke down and went to the doctor since my legs now had signs of a rash.
At the doctor’s office, I did get the weirdest looks. People must have assumed that I had leprosy. One never realizes how bad a poison sumac rash can be until you see the expression in another person’s face. The doctor would not even come near me, it was so bad. He did finally take a quick look and told me it was poison sumac. It was no poison ivy as I had thought. I was a bit perplexed since I never saw nor even know about poison sumac. The only thing I did know was that the poison sumac rash made me look like an infected zombie.
The key to treatment is to know what does poison sumac look like. The best way to treat the rash is to avoid it all together. It turns out that poison sumac grows in very wet or flooded soils. My property has a brook that runs along the side and the end of the property line are wetlands. Poison sumac has compound leaves with 7-13 leaflets. The veins from which the leaflets grow are always red. The plant grows as a shrub and produces fruit that is a small white or grey berry.
So which part of the plant actually causes the rash? It turns out that the shrub produces an oil from the sap called urushiol. This oil is on the leaves and the stem and is a form of a defense mechanism against predators. For humans, this oil is absorbed into the skin and creates an allergic reaction in the form of a rash. The slightest touch can create an allergic reaction. Even if you are completely covered, your clothes can contain the oil and transfer it onto your skin after the fact. The side effects are not lethal but they are visually unappealing and the itch can be annoying.
If you look at any of the poison sumac rash pictures including mine, prevention is important. first and foremost wear clothing that covers you like long sleeves, long pants, gloves and socks. If you suspect that an uncovered part of your body was exposed to poison sumac, wash the skin with soap and warm water as quickly as possible (30 minutes). Your pets can also carry the oils so they need a bath as well. The final step is to wash all of your clothes quickly once you are done with working outside. If any tools were used, wash them with a diluted bleach solution or rubbing alcohol. Whatever you do, do not burn poison sumac. The oils can be spread via smoke and can cause severe reactions to people who are downwind.
If a rash begins to develop, don’t panic. Body heat and sweating can aggravate the itching. Stay cool and apply cool compresses to your skin. You can use calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching and blistering. Some experts have suggested bathing in lukewarm water with an oatmeal bath product to soothe itchy skin. Aluminum acetate (Domeboro solution) soaks can help to dry the rash and reduce itching.
If your rash spreads or does not disappear after a week, you will have to go to the doctor. I had to go and my treatment was a steroid injection in the buttocks followed by methylprednisolone tablet steroids. The dosage was scaled down over the course of a week on a daily basis. The skin will dry out and the rash goes away. While the rash might go away, a reinfection can occur.
Have you tried any home remedies for poison sumac, ivy or oak?