In these Santa Lucia Mountains and all the way down to sea level, there are hillsides, bluffs and canyons covered in colorful summer foliage. The bad news is that if you pick some of those red leaves for a floral arrangement, you may be sorry!
The good news is that poison oak is recognizable with its three leaves shaped in lobes that resemble the leaves of an oak tree. Poison oak grows in bushy shrubs or long vines. During summer, the leaves turn brilliant shades of orange and red.
According to Dr. Weil, 50 percent to 85 percent of the population is allergic to poison oak leaves, roots, stems, flowers and fruit (berries). Forest fire smoke from burning poison oak can cause severe eye, nose, throat and lung irritation. A rash ranging from mild to severe can make you a very unhappy camper.
Contamination results from contact with toxicodendrol, an oily and gummy substance that contains urushiol, which is a toxic chemical. Toxicodendrol does not dissolve in water alone; consequently, it isn’t easy to wash off.
After contact with poison oak, those who have a reaction generally develop redness, blistering, swelling and itching within 24 to 48 hours. Some react within half an hour, others may not react until two weeks after exposure. Typically, a mild case lasts about a week to 10 days. A severe case of poison oak may last up to a month or longer. Pale-skinned people and children are especially susceptible.
The best strategy is to avoid exposure. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, closed shoes and socks, and even gloves. Immediately wash clothing that has been in contact with poison oak. Exposed skin should be washed with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Clean under your nails so as to keep from spreading the plant’s oils to wherever you scratch an itch!
If you think your dog has rubbed up against poison oak you should give your dog a bath too. The dog’s fur will likely protect the dog from developing symptoms, but you may expose yourself again when you pet your pooch.
Unless you wear disposable coveralls, after you bathe your dog, you’ll want to wash yourself again as well. Poison oak oils (oils that remain potent for as long as five years) can also get on such things as golf clubs, a dog’s stick or ball, your horse’s legs and other items.
Are you itchy yet? Well, you’re in luck, because I just tried out Dr. Weil’s best treatment for poison oak! As he mentioned, it seemed counterintuitive, but the relentless discomfort and accompanying sleeplessness gave me the incentive to give it a try.
Run hot water on the affected areas, as hot as you can stand. Under the hot water the itching will briefly become very intense and then, like a blessed miracle, it stops for several hours! I repeated this process as needed.
Dr. Weil said it’s as if the nerves are overloaded and temporarily shut down. Regardless the reason, it worked!