Spreading the word about poison ivy

MY SON HAS poison ivy, and I am as helpless to cure him as if he had smallpox.

His face is streaked with tiny blisters, and his eyes are red and swollen. Each morning, another angry slash of poison-ivy bubbles shows up somewhere else on his body, like wild strawberries in the spring. The poor child looks as though he's been hacking through the deadly thorn hedges around Sleeping Beauty's castle.


I took him to the doctor, where I paid good money to learn that nothing can be done. Only time heals poison ivy, and it gets worse before that happens.

They can put a man on the moon, but they can't cure poison ivy.


While Joe and I wait for it to go away, we are the recipients of all manner of well-meaning but misinformed poison ivy advice.

Friends and strangers inquire after Joe's face, and then offer their own version of the truth about poison ivy. Joe and I have heard every poison ivy old wives' tale in the land.We respond politely, then steal glances at each other and roll our eyes.

To keep his mind off the itching, Joe and I have put together a list of "facts" we've learned about poison ivy. Don't be worried if it all sounds contradictory (and yet somehow familiar). We gave up trying to make sense of it.

Poison ivy is a vine-like plant with little hairs that help it climb and cling to trees. Its three-leaf pattern makes it easily recognizable.

No it's not. It's a shrub.

You never see the poison ivy that gets you, so it doesn't matter whether you can recognize it or not.

Poison ivy turns red in the fall, but the leaves are shiny green in the summer.

Poison ivy doesn't turn red in the fall; that's poison sumac.


No it's not.

If someone is burning brush and burns poison ivy, you can catch it from the smoke.

If you get it on your clothes, they must be washed in lye-based soap.

4 That doesn't work. You have to burn the clothes.

If you burn the clothes, you can catch poison ivy from the smoke.

Some people aren't sensitive to poison ivy. As a matter of fact, they can roll in it and not catch it.


If your pet rolls in it, you will catch it from your pet.

Your child knows a kid who ate poison ivy in order to prove to his friends he wasn't sensitive to it.

If your child scratches the blisters, they will pop and the pus will get on his hands and he will spread poison ivy to everything he touches -- your kitchen counter, the neighbor's kid, up his nose.

No he won't.

Poison ivy spreads like ivy, sending shoots out under the victim's skin and sprouting in a new dermatological neighborhood.

No it doesn't.


Your child knows a kid who got poison ivy on his butt.

Everybody at school knows that's because he was going to the bathroom in the woods.

Calamine lotion is the only remedy for poison ivy.

Calamine lotion is worthless. You can swim in it or drink it and it won't stop the itching.

Your child doesn't know where he was when the poison ivy found him, which means he will find it again.

If you think you have been exposed to poison ivy, wash quickly PTC with Fels Naptha soap.


Don't bother, it's too late.

Only kids get poison ivy, because they have sensitive skin and play in the woods. Adults don't get it, because they have tougher skin and only go outside to cut the grass.

If you run over poison ivy while cutting the grass, you will inhale the fumes and get it in your lungs.

No pediatrician has ever had poison ivy. If they had, they might have a more helpful suggestion for the mother of a tormented child than: "It will get worse before it gets better."

Don't scratch, you will get scars.

No. That's chickenpox.


Take an oatmeal bath. But scrub out the tub or the next bather will get poison ivy.

Eat oatmeal.

Wash all your child's toys with lye-based soap.

Change the bedclothes every day. And burn them.

If your child gets poison ivy once, he will get it at the same time every year.

If your child has poison ivy, check for deer ticks. If he has one, he probably has the other.


Poison ivy has medicinal uses. It can be mixed in the hay given to horses who are suffering respiratory problems.

It is safe to kiss and hug a child with poison ivy, unless that child is in middle school. It is never safe to kiss or hug a middle-school child.

The sap that causes poison ivy is found in the leaves, the stems and the roots and remains active for a year or more. You can get poison ivy this fall from last fall's hunting gear.

L Not if you washed the stuff in lye-based soap. Or burned it.

Poison ivy is not contagious. It's just the bad information about poison ivy that spreads.

Pub Date: 10/27/96