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The Endless Summer Itch: 3 Rash-Inducing Plants to Avoid

There’s no better season for venturing into the great outdoors than the summertime — just be sure to avoid these plants (and the nasty rashes they’re famous for)!

Summer’s the time to slap on some sunscreen and soak up the sun at the beach, in your garden, or on a mountainside hike. Of course, enjoying the warm weather usually means showing a little skin, and if your summer activities include outdoor excursions, you just might run into a poisonous plant and pick up a nasty rash as a result.

Although some rashes do require immediate medical attention, most picked up in nature are easily treatable and rarely require anything beyond a few topical treatments. Of course, the ideal scenario is avoiding the herbaceous culprits in the first place! On your next walk through the great outdoors, avoid these common rash-inducing plants:

Poison Ivy

Probably the most well-known of the rash-inducing plants in the East, poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans) can be identified by its almond-shaped leaves and angular edges. Poison ivy grows on the ground, both as a tree-climbing vine and as a small shrub, and thrives in warm locations.

If you come into contact with any part of a poison ivy plant, or even an object that has brushed against it, you’ll most likely contract a rash that appears one or two days afterwards.
These rashes typically manifest as red swelling and small blisters, though the intensity of the rash varies from person to person. If you do contract a rash, difficult though it may be, it’s important to scratch it as little as possible.

It’s highly recommended that you take a shower or bath immediately after making contact with the plant, and that you also wash the clothes you were wearing at the time. Most rashes should clear up on their own within one to three weeks, but if they do persist, contact a dermatologist. If symptoms are more serious — for example, severe swelling or shortness of breath — you should visit an emergency room immediately.

Poison Oak

Typically found south of the mid-Atlantic states, poison oak (toxicodendron diversilobum) is a woody vine or shrub that inhabits conifer and mixed broadleaf forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Its leaves and twigs secrete an oil called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in most humans, and in rare cases causes a skin inflammation called contact dermatitis. Rashes contracted from poison oak begin as an itch, which may evolve into swelling, severe itching, and even blistering. As with poison ivy, it’s important to avoid burning poison oak, as inhalation can cause severe damage to the lungs.

Poison Sumac

Often confused with poison ivy, poison sumac (toxicodendron vernix) is a small shrub with grayish-white fruit, smooth bark, and smooth-edged leaves. It typically grows in wetlands, and therefore isn’t encountered quite as often as the other plants on this list. Poison sumac also contains urushiol, and produces similar rashes to those caused by poison ivy.

If you contract this rash, you should scrub under your fingernails with a brush to prevent the oil from spreading to other parts of the body; wash your clothing and shoes; and try to stay cool, as heat can further irritate and inflame the rash. As with rashes contracted from the plants detailed above, calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can be applied to reduce itching and blistering.

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