Warm summer weather often leads to an increase in outdoor activity and exposure to things such as poison ivy, poison oak and bug bites. The majority of Americans are allergic to poison ivy and oak, but contrary to popular belief, it does not spread by scratching. The oil, which causes the allergic reaction to poison ivy, can stick to clothes and even pet fur. If you do come into contact with poison ivy or oak, it’s important to wash the area with soap and water. However, there are things we can do to prevent it coming into contact with our skin, such as:
- Knowing how to identify the plants. Poison ivy and oak have a cluster of three leaves at the end of a stem and flowers that sprout where two branches meet. Hairy vines that you often see growing up the side of trees are also poison ivy.
- Wearing gloves, long sleeves and pants if you are working outside and washing them immediately after use.
The average duration of the rash from poison ivy or oak is between one to three weeks. If a rash from poison ivy or oak lasts more than three weeks, it’s time to talk your doctor.
Bug bites can also be quite the nuisance, and in some cases, quite dangerous. Tick bites, in particular, can cause serious health conditions, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. To prevent tick bites, wear long sleeves, light-colored fabrics, a hat and remember to use bug repellant when spending time outdoors. If you find a tick, gently grab the head of the tick with tweezers and pull it away from your skin, then wash the area with soap and water. Make a note of what size the tick was, as it can indicate how long they have been there. If you begin experiencing high fever, achiness, a rash, fatigue and/or headache within a month of a tick bite, you need to seek medical attention.
When you spend a lot of time outdoors, using sunscreen to protect your skin is imperative. Apply a minimum of SPF 30 at least every two hours while outdoors. If you do get a sunburn, you can use aloe vera gel to sooth the skin.
In most cases, bug bites and poison ivy or oak rashes can be treated at home using cold compresses and/or hydrocortisone cream to help with the itching. If your symptoms persist, or you develop a fever or a new rash, contact your primary care physician right away.
Fortunately, Cone Health has an exceptional network of healthcare providers dedicated to providing proper treatment to patients who have experienced a common summertime injury or health condition.
Kate Clark is a nurse practitioner for LeBauer HealthCare at Stoney Creek and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2009 and her master’s degree in nursing, specializing as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2015.