poisonous plants

Poisonous Plants: How to Avoid Them and Treat Rashes from Them

woman with rash from poisonous plant

We all want to enjoy our time outdoors: hiking trips, taking a bike ride through the woods or getting our gardens ready. All of these activities are great, just remember to avoid the poisonous plants around you. It only takes a little sap to be zapped by a poisonous plant.

There are a variety of poisonous plants that you may come into contact with, such as poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. We want to give you some helpful tips to protect yourself and your loved ones when encountering any poisonous plants. Know where to go and how to treat the itchy rash and irritation some plants may cause.

How You Get Rashes from Poisonous Plants

Ever wonder how you got a rash from touching such a small plant? Each of the poisonous plants above secretes urushiol oil onto its roots, stem, and leaves. Once in contact with the skin, this oil often causes a combination of mild to severe rash*, itching, and blisters.

Each person has a different level of sensitivity to the urushiol oil and touching it more than once can also increase the chances of dealing with a more severe rash. Physical contact is not the only way to get this rash. Burning these plants could result in the oil spreading through the air and coating the soot. This coating could come into contact with your skin, but also areas that aren’t typically touched by the sap (eyes, nostrils, throat, or even inhalation into the respiratory system).

*These rashes are not contagious and cannot be spread person-to-person. While the oil will stay on any surfaces it has come into contact with (unless washed with water or rubbing alcohol), simply touching someone else’s rash will not cause you to get infected as well.

What Poisonous Plants Look Like

In the southeastern United States, poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac all grow in the area. The best way to avoid getting the rash and blisters is not touching the plant.

poison ivyPoison Ivy: Each leaf on poison ivy has three leaflets that appear glossy. The edges of these leaves can be either smooth or toothed. Furthermore, these leaves can also appear as different in color when in different seasons. During the spring, the leaves appear reddish in color, and during the summer the leaves are green. The leaves are even present during autumn and can be yellow, red, or orange. Also, poison ivy can grow as a vine or shrub that appears to trail the ground, or climb low plants, trees or poles.

 

poison oakPoison Oak: The leaves appear fuzzy and green and grow in groups of three. These leaves are deeply toothed with rounded tips. The plants typically grow as a low shrub; however, on the Pacific Coast, they have been known to grow in tall clumps or long vines.

 

 

poison sumacPoison Sumac: This poisonous plant grows as a small shrub in bogs or swamps. These leaves have clusters of seven to 13 smooth-edged leaflets growing along the stem. Like poison ivy, these leaves can appear different in color depending on the season. During the spring, the leaves are orange, but during the summer they are green. These plants are also present in the fall and can be yellow, orange, or red at that point.

 

 

How to Treat Rashes from Poisonous Plants

After a few weeks, the effects of poison ivy will subside without any treatment. During that time, do not scratch the blisters as this could lead to infection. So, how do you calm the itching without scratching? Applying wet compresses or submerging the afflicted area in cool water can help. You can also get prescription oral corticosteroids or over-the-counter topical corticosteroids to alleviate that itching feeling. You may want to see a health care professional if you observe any of the following symptoms:

  • You have a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • There is pus, soft yellow scabs, or tenderness on the rash.
  • The itching gets worse or keeps you awake at night.
  • The rash spreads to your eyes, mouth, genital area, or covers more than one-fourth of your skin area.
  • The rash is not improving within a few weeks.
  • The rash is widespread and severe.
  • You have difficulty breathing.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, we recommend either visiting your nearest Peachtree Immediate Care urgent care location or MinuteClinic.

If you aren’t experiencing any severe pain, a MinuteClinic can be a good alternative to visit in order to help keep the rash down and prevent infection.

However, if you are in pain, going to a local Peachtree Immediate Care can help reduce inflammation and provide access to a medical professional who can treat the infection.

As always, if you feel you are in a life-threatening situation, go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 911. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to call your PCP or the Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 and speak to an Emory nurse for assistance.

Know Where to Go

Knowing where to go when you’re ill or hurt makes a big difference. But it can get confusing. Know where to go to get the right care at the right time. Your primary care doctor knows your medical history best, but the Emory Healthcare Network also includes Peachtree Immediate Care Urgent Care and CVS MinuteClinics, hundreds of primary care locations, and 6 ERs throughout metro Atlanta. Get the care you need wherever you need it. See our map to find the locations closest to you.

 

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993, and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as medical director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and assistant clinical professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Back-to-School Bugs & Beyond: Know Where to Go

Back to school bugsBack-to-school bugs mean your kids may soon be coming home sniffling, sneezing or showing other signs of battling a “bug.”

Your kid’s classroom can be just the kind of enclosed space that makes a great breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to multiply and spread. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elementary school children catch eight to 12 colds or cases of flu each school year.

Back-to-School Bugs

Back to school brings kids back in touch with lots of other kids. It can be a stressful time, even for kids who have the healthiest immune systems. Children returning to school may be exposed to:

  • Colds, cold sores, coughs
  • Pink eye
  • Stomach bugs

You can prepare your kids for battling any back-to-school bugs by strengthening their immune systems. Here’s how:

  • Get your kids back on a good sleep schedule
  • Boost diets with Vitamin C rich fruits & veggies
  • Make sure they stay hydrated

Healthy Habits

  • Hand washing: The best way for your child to stay healthy at school is to practice good hand washing. Teach your child to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That’s how you know they’ll be washing for at least twenty seconds. And, your child should use soap. It’s more effective than hand sanitizers.
  • Clean water: Arm your child with a water bottle and teach them this is one thing that should never be shared. Hydration is important, but drinking fountains can be hot zones for germs. They aren’t cleaned and disinfected as often as school bathrooms are. If your child does use the water fountain, they should let the water run before drinking and keep their mouths from touching the fountain.
  • Healthy manners: Teach your child to always cough or sneeze into an elbow.

Allergy Alert

Here in Atlanta, ragweed pollen blooms in August and is at its peak in September. In addition to ragweed, tree pollens can also be blamed for allergies.

If your child suffers from allergies, prepare for back to school by pretreating with allergy medication before the peak of pollen season.

Symptoms of allergies include:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and scratchy throat
  • Post-nasal drip, runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

Learn more about allergies here.

Know Where to Go When It’s Not Life Threatening

Primary care physician, family doctor or pediatrician: If your child does come down with a bug or an infection, start out by seeing your pediatrician, family doctor or primary care physician (PCP). They are already familiar with your child and know their health history best.

If you can’t get an appointment at a time that works for you, or your doctor’s schedule is all booked up, don’t stress. You have options.

MinuteClinics and urgent care centers are good alternatives if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCP’s normal office hours. MinuteClinics can treat many minor illnesses and injuries and prescribe medications. Urgent care centers can treat serious, but not life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Unfortunately, playground accidents and back-to-school injuries can happen. In addition to bumps and bruises, your child might show signs of an urgent condition. Go to the ER for urgent conditions, including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with, and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

Know Where to Go

Knowing where to go when you’re ill or injured makes a big difference. But it can get confusing. Know where to go to get right care at the right time. Your primary care doctor knows your medical history best, but the Emory Healthcare Network also includes Peachtree Immediate Care Urgent Care and CVS MinuteClinics, hundreds of primary care locations and 6 ERs throughout metro Atlanta. Get the care you need wherever you need it. See our map to find the locations closest to you.

Talk to Our Nurses

If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993 and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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