Help Your Kids Outsmart Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac at Camp
Attention parents of summer campers! The start of camp is right around the corner. You've selected the perfect camp, and now it's time to make sure your child heads off well prepared. While packing lists are filled with excellent information, there is a natural nuisance that sometimes gets overlooked in first aid planning yet often intrudes upon campers’ outdoor enjoyment: poison ivy.
This article is intended to provide an overview on this common allergic reaction and address the latest prevention and treatment options, including common-sense strategies for minimizing its effect on your children’s camp experiences.
An Overview on Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac belong to a family of plants that produce one of the most common allergic reactions in the United States. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that anywhere from ten to fifty million people are affected each year.
The allergic reaction is also known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. Urushiol is an oil-based allergen found in the sap of poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants. When people come in contact with the oil, it often adheres to the skin within minutes to a couple of hours, producing the telltale allergic responses of itching, swelling, rashes, and oozing blisters. Reactions can result from direct contact with broken leaves or stems of the plants, indirect contact by touching something that has urushiol on it, such as socks or bed linens, or through airborne exposure to burning plants.
What It Looks Like
There is no simple way to describe what poison ivy, oak, and sumac look like. The plants grow almost everywhere in the United States, except Hawaii, Alaska and some desert areas of the Southwest. In addition, the plants do not typically grow in elevations above 5,000 feet. The prevalence and structure of each plant vary by region and season. However, there are some general features specific to each plant noted below that may help your kids avoid a run-in:
Poison ivy is the most common and widespread plant of the three. Its leaves are characterized by three or five serrated-edge, pointed leaflets and assume bright colors in the fall. Poison ivy grows as a vine or free-standing plant in the East, Midwest, and South and as a shrub in the far northern and western United States.
Poison oak has three leaves and grows as a shrub in the East and the West, where it is most prevalent. The plant produces whitish flowers from August to November that dry and can remain for months. Its leaves also form bright colors during the fall season.
Poison sumac has seven to thirteen staggered leaflets with one on the tip of the plant. It grows as a shrub or small tree and is found mainly in the Eastern United States, primarily in peat bogs and swamps.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Camp Association. © 2008 American Camping Association, Inc.
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