Friday, March 15, 2013

Poison Oak: The Demon Weed - Indentification and Prevention


Poison Oak: A Nasty Way to End a Ride


March means warmer weather is coming, and so is prime biking season. 

Undoubtedly when we hit the trails, we all know the importance of safety. Common practices include: wearing a helmet, monitoring tire pressure, and checking the brakes regularly. Something may have escaped your checklist though, and to overlooking it is a huge mistake. This is a great opportunity to brush up on your poison knowledge as identification is key to prevention.
Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a plant that contains an oily, allergy-causing sap called Urushiol. Contact with this sap or anything the sap has come into contact with will result in severe itching, inflammation, colorless bumps, and then blistering when scratched. 

What does that mean?
This means that if your clothes, gloves, helmet, handlebars, backpack... anything— gets Urushiol sap on it, and then you touch it, it is the same as if you touched the plant itself.

There really is no comparison to how troublesome and harmful this is to your ride. The stems of this plant have no thorns, the flowers have no sharp edges. After initial contact with poison oak, you may feel nothing at all. Over the next couple days following initial contact however, it will begin to fester and burn, and can be irritating to the point that you can't even ride a bike. 

What does it look like?
There is good news. It's pretty easy to spot Poison Oak. Typically it is a shrub, and the leaves DO come in threes varying from red to green. The leaves are shiny, and without prickers. In the spring, it is easy to detect as the baby leaves shoot out in a full red color. In fact, this is when the urushiol is most potent and even the slightest contact with these reddish stacks will result in bad exposure. 

Where is it found?

You can find poison oak in damp, semi-shady areas near running water, and also thrives in direct sunlight. Sunlight is needed for its survival, so areas like redwood forests minimize the growth of these plants. At elevations over 6,000 feet, they are not able to thrive. 

What should I do if I have touched it?


  • Wash the skin thoroughly with soap and warm water. Because the plant oil enters skin quickly, try to wash it off within 30 minutes.
  • Scrub under the fingernails with a brush to prevent the plant oil from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Wash clothing and shoes with soap and hot water. The plant oils can linger on them.
  • Immediately bathe animals to remove the oils from their fur.
  • Body heat and sweating can aggravate the itching. Stay cool and apply cool compresses to your skin.
  • Calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can be applied to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.
  • Bathing in lukewarm water with an oatmeal bath product, available in drugstores, may soothe itchy skin. Aluminum acetate (Domeboro solution) soaks can help to dry the rash and reduce itching.
  • If creams, lotions, or bathing do not stop the itching, antihistamines may be helpful.
  • In severe cases, especially for a rash around the face or genitals, the health care provider may prescribe steroids, taken by mouth or given by injection.
  • Wash tools and other objects with a dilute bleach solution or rubbing alcohol.
Do Not
  • Do NOT touch skin or clothing that still have the resins.
  • Do NOT burn poison ivy, oak, or sumac to get rid of it. The resins can be spread via smoke and can cause severe reactions in people who are far downwind.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if:
  • Someone is suffering a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or difficulty breathing, or has had a severe reaction in the past.
  • Someone has been exposed to the smoke of a burning plant.
Call your provider if:
  • Itching is severe and cannot be controlled.
  • The rash affects your face, lips, eyes, or genitals.
  • The rash shows signs of infection, such as pus, yellow fluid leaking from blisters, odor, or increased tenderness.
Prevention
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when walking in areas where these plants may grow.
  • Skin products such as Ivy Block lotion can be applied beforehand to reduce the risk of a rash.
Other steps include:
  • Learn to identify poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Teach your children to identify them as soon as they are able.
  • Remove these plants if they grow near your home (but never burn them).
  • Be aware of resins carried by pets.
  • Wash as soon as possible after a suspected exposure.

Now you know......... get out there and hit the trails! 

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Brantley SmithAbout Me
Hello, I am Brantley Smith and have been riding road and mountain bikes since the mid 90's. I previously worked here at Ride-A-Bike from mid-97 to mid-2000 doing repairs and other duties around the shop. I attended Wester Carolina University and graduated in 2004 with a computer information systems degree. Add my to your circles.