Itchy, Scratchy, & Rashy – Bad Things Come in Threes…

Geocaching's own Doctor Dog

Geocaching’s own Doctor Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This guest post was written by Doctor Dog, who is filling in for Community Manager Janelle Saylor this week.

 

They say bad things come in threes. Poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak are three of the evilest plants out there. At least 50 percent of people who come into contact with these plants are allergic to them and will develop an itchy rash which can last as long as three weeks.

The best way to prevent a rash is to avoid poisonous plants all together. But if you are determined to get that D5/T5, then you need to know how to protect yourself. Avid geocacher (and dedicated nurse) Kelley Piekarek* put together these safety tips so all outdoor enthusiasts can keep themselves safe during geocaching’s busy season.

 

Prevention:
The best way to avoid the rash is to avoid the plant. The best way to avoid the plant is to know what they look like and where they grow.

Poison ivy:
Found throughout Canada and the United States except for parts of the West Coast. Can grow as a hairy vine or small shrub trailing along the ground or climbing on low plants, trees, and poles. Each leaf has three glossy leaflets with smooth or toothed edges. Leaves are reddish in spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Found in woody areas, thickets, and moist places.

Poison Ivy is reddish in spring, green in summer, and yellow/orange/red in autumn

Poison ivy is reddish in spring, green in summer, and yellow/orange/red in autumn

 

Poison sumac:
Grows as a tall shrub or small tree in bogs or swamps in Northeast, Midwest, and parts of Southeastern North America. Each leaf has clusters of seven to 13 smooth-edged leaflets. Leaves are orange in spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Often, the leaves have spots that look like blotches of black paint. May have yellow-greenish flowers and whitish-green fruits that hang in loose clusters.

Poison sumac is orange in spring, green in summer, and yellow/orange/red in autumn. Often, the leaves have spots that look like blotches of black paint.

 

Poison oak:
Grows as a low shrub in the eastern and southern North America, and in tall clumps or long vines on the Pacific Coast. Poison oak usually has a cluster of three broad leaves, though it can have up to seven. The leaves tend to be glossy, and the plant grows upright. Western poison oak has lobed leaflets like an oak tree, while eastern poison oak is more like a glossy version of poison ivy. May have yellow-white berries.

Poison Oak leaves tend to be glossy, and the plant grows upright. May have yellow-white berries.

Poison oak leaves tend to be glossy, and the plant grows upright. May have yellow-white berries.

 

shoesProtection:

  • Keep your skin covered to avoid contact with these plants
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves, and closed shoes if you’re in an area where these plants may be lurking
  • Tie the bottoms of your pants legs or tuck them into your boots
  • Wear gloves when bushwhacking
  • It’s a good idea to keep a pair of shoes dedicated for geocaching that can be kept outdoors

 

 

OOPS!  I’ve touched it, now what?
The chemical that causes the rash is called urushiol and it will stick to your skin when you touch or brush against any part of the plant. It will also contaminate your clothes, ‘caching gear and your geo-dog, too! Remember, you can’t spread the rash to other people, but you can get the rash all over again if you touch contaminated items you haven’t washed.

  • If you know your skin has come in contact with the plants, wash with soap and water immediately
  • If water is not available, wipe down the area with rubbing alcohol
  • Wash your clothes with hot soapy water
  • Hose down your boots, geocache bag, leash, and anything else you took on your hike
  • Wash your geo-dog well with soapy water and wear gloves while you do this (she can’t get the rash, but you can get it from her)
Yes - even Doctor Dog needs a bath from time to time

Yes, even Doctor Dog needs a bath from time to time

 

Help! I have the rash!
The rash often looks like a straight line because of the way the plant brushes against the skin. But if you come into contact with a piece of clothing or pet fur that has urushiol on it, the rash may spread out. The rash usually develops 12 to 48 hours after exposure and typically lasts two or three weeks. To treat the rash at home:

  • Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection
  • Leave blisters alone—if blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin since the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection
  • Consider applying calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream
  • Consider taking antihistamine pills (with your doctor’s approval)

Rash caused by poison ivy – and this is one of the “nicer’ images


If you have any of the following symptoms, you need to go to the Emergency Room. Like, right now:

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing
  • The rash covers most of your body
  • You experience swelling, especially if an eyelid swells shut
  • Much of your skin itches, or nothing seems to ease the itch
  • You develop a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
  • The rash doesn’t get better within a few weeks

 

Stay safe out there my friends, and cache on! How do you stay safe while enjoying your favorite hobby?

 

*If the name Kelley Piekarek sounds familiar, it may be from this story that made national geocaching news in February of this year. Woof! 

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