Ah, summer in Bermuda, a time for all sorts of outdoor activities, from swimming off our shores and playing in our parks to beaching, boating and biking. Being exposed to nature can also expose you to some of its hazards. Here is a survival guide to staying safe while still having fun this summer.
Poison ivy has a red stem with three glossy leaves on the end. The leaves have quite pronounced veins, and they appear fuzzy from underneath. The roots, stems, leaves and fruit of the plant contain urushiol oil, the sap responsible for causing allergic reactions in sensitized people. This oil can stay potent on clothing, tools, toys, etc., for years after the initial contact is made. The main symptom of exposure to poison ivy is a red, itchy rash that will usually occur within one to three days of exposure. Often streaky in appearance at first, the rash then begins to develop oozing blisters.
What to do
If you suspect contact with this plant, wash the entire body with soap and water, preferably within 10 to 15 minutes. All clothing should be laundered. If a rash appears despite washing, cold compresses will help relieve the discomfort. Most rashes resolve themselves within one or two weeks. Antihistamines, such as Piriton or Benadryl, can be taken orally, and a topical application of calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can help dry up the rash and provide relief from the itch. If the rash covers more than two thirds of the body, is on the face or genital area or if signs of infection are present (pain, increased redness and pus), you should contact your doctor immediately. If the rash is severe, or covers multiple areas of the body, a doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids and/or stronger steroid creams.
What not to do
While tempting, scratching the rash with fingernails may introduce bacteria to the area, leading to infection. Do not scratch the rash; apply a soothing compress or soak the area in the bath instead. Prevent re-exposing the body to the plant by avoiding the area of contact. Wear protective clothing if there is a possibility of coming into contact with the plant again.
Lindo’s pharmacist Rebecca White earned her bachelor of science in pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 16 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.