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Tara Kompare, Pharm.D
Tara Kompare, Pharm.D is a part-time pharmacist and full-time mother. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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Leaves of Three, Let it Be, or Else...
October 2006

Camping is a wonderful family affair. Children and parents work together to set up tents, start campfires, and swat away mosquitoes. Despite our careful planning of every article of clothing to bring, what type of sandwiches to make, and which adult beverages we must not leave home without, we usually always forget something. As a parent, I urge you to add one more item to your exhausting list: a poison ivy emergency kit. This is because hidden in campsites across most of America are poisonous plants that can turn your fun family affair into an itchy-scratchy marathon.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are three of the most common weeds in the United States known to cause an allergic skin reaction. The rash associated with these causes intense itching, blistering, and pain. So how do we prevent our children, and ourselves, from catching a case of one of these dreaded skin poisons? The first step is to engrain in our children’s heads what these miserable plants look like and make sure they stay far away from them. Let them know that if they come into contact with these, the family trip is likely to be ruined and they will not get allowance for a month. Well, that may be a little harsh but you know what I mean.

What to do:

1. Appearance is everything. Contrary to popular belief, the saying “Leaves of three, let it be” is only partially true. While poison ivy and poison oak plants usually have three leaflets, poison sumac normally has seven to thirteen. Also be on the lookout for tiny black spots on the leaves. These spots are the actual oils of the plant. It is the uroshiol oil which is responsible for the allergic reaction, not the leaves themselves. The oil is normally colorless. It is not until the leaves are damaged and the oil is exposed to air, that it turns black. You can check out some great pictures of these plants online at www.keepkidshealthy.com
2. Wear a barrier lotion. There are over the counter products available such as Ivy Block which help protect the skin from absorbing uroshiol.
3. Do not burn plants that you believe may be poisonous. The oils from these plants will be released into the air and can also cause an allergic reaction.

After educating your children about the appearance of poisonous plants and teaching them how to avoid them, here’s what to do just in case they weren’t listening:

- Treatment:
1. Immediately rinse affected areas of skin with cool water. If water is not available you can use rubbing alcohol. If you rinse off the oils within five to ten minutes of contact, this can greatly reduce the chances of developing a rash. You should also wash off anything that may have come in contact with the oils using soap and water such as shoes, sunglasses, toys, and clothing.
2. Poison Ivy Emergency Kit: -For itching, you can use Calamine lotion, Benadryl cream , or oral Benadryl -For pain, try Tylenol or Motrin.
3. Give them something for the whining. I recommend lollipops or everlasting gobstoppers. Anything that lasts a while will do the trick.
4. If your child catches poison ivy at home, you can try a colloidal oatmeal bath in warm water. Just make sure your child is careful getting in and out of the tub because colloidal oatmeal is very slippery.

- Call a doctor if:
1. The initial reaction is severe or symptoms worsen.
2. The rash seems to be spreading, covers large areas of the body, or affects the eyelids or genitalia.

-What NOT to do:
- Do not take a hot shower after possible exposure to poison ivy. It can open your pores and increase the reaction. Just remember, don’t be a fool, keep it cool.( I know that’s cheesy but I have been playing rhyming games with my three year old all morning and I thought she’d like that one.)
- Do not let your animals run wild through the woods. The oil from the plants adheres very nicely to the coats of our furry friends.
- Finally, never let your children put gobstoppers in the microwave or keep them out in the hot sun. I once saw a show that demonstrated the possible explosive nature of these tiny balls of sugar-so be careful.

With any family trip you are likely to encounter some obstacles along the way. Whether it’s a flat tire, or a case of itchy, oozing poison ivy, there are treatments available. So, on your next outdoors adventure with your family remember two important things: your poison ivy emergency kit, and lollipops. You never know when you may need them.

P.S.S.(Parent Sanity Saver): Before your next camping trip or hike through the park, take your kids online and view some poisonous plants. Not only will you feel good for helping protect your little ones from a raging rash, you will also save yourself from having to care for an irritable, itchy, and weepy child.

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