Summer Safety Tips: Dealing with a poison ivy rash
As the old adage goes: "If it has leaves of three, let it be..." Beyond its three leaves, also be on the lookout for red vines that appear fuzzy or hairy. (Photo courtesy of Rob Blenkhorn of KillMyPoisonIvy.com)
Contact with poisonous plants is a common but itchy and uncomfortable problem for kids in the summertime, pediatricians say. "Rashes from poison ivy are something I see on a pretty common basis," says Dr. Kristine Powell, an Indianapolis pediatrician with St. Vincent Medical Group.
But fortunately for most parents, a child acquiring a rash from poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac or other rash-inducing plant toxins is mostly just uncomfortable.
Preventing rashes from poison ivy and other poisonous plants
The best way to prevent your child fromdeveloping a rash from poison ivy or another poisonous plant is teach them to avoid the plant altogether.
"The best prevention is parents is making sure their kids know what plants like poison ivy look like and how to make efforts to avoid it," says Houston pediatrician Dr. Pamela Sanders of the Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center in Sugar Land, Texas. "Poison ivy is almost always in a wooded, brushy area, so that’s where you want to be especially careful and avoid those locations or make sure children wear long pants and sleeves."
Treating rashes from poison ivy and other poisonous plants
"Usually kids don’t know that they've come in contact with poisonous plants until they’ve come down with the red itchy patches on their face or arms," Sanders says. "After that point, it’s mostly treatment of itching."
But before you treat the itch, make sure you or your child doesn't spread the plant oil responsible for producing the rash. Remove and wash any clothing, and wash both the affected areas and unaffected areas in warm, soapy water.
Sanders says topical ant-itch medication such as Calamine lotion and oral antihistamine like Benadryl can both be effective at reducing a child's discomfort caused by itching. "You also need to make an effort to keep kids from scratching at it," she says, which can include trimming fingernails short to prevent new injuries and possible infection from developing.
When to seek medical help for rashes from poison ivy and other poisonous plants
While most exposure to poison ivy and other plants causes just an itchy, uncomfortable rash, pediatricians say seeking medical care may be necessary in certain scenarios. Dr. Powell says those conditions include if the child is extremely uncomfortable, has contacted the a rash around the eyes or if children show signs of fever, redness or swelling that extends beyond the area of the rash.
Your child's pediatrician may prescribe a short course of an oral steroid that may help alleviate more serious side effects from poison ivy or other poisonous plants.