Home

Spreading the Word
Typical Appearances
Briefing
Prevention
First Aid
Medical Care
Identification
Stems
Reproduction
Foliage
Risk ManagementBiochemistry
Anecdotes
Bibliography

Appendices

Dermatology
Anacardiaceae

About the Author

 

BRIEFING ABOUT POISON-OAK
Review Prior to Exposure

VOLUNTEERS WHO HAVE HAD A DISABLING REACTION TO POISON-OAK SHOULD GENERALLY AVOID ANY  EXPOSURE.

Chronic health changes occasionally occur following poison-oak exposure.

Half of Californians haven't had a reaction to poison-oak. 80% of these "non-reactors" develop a rash if adequately provoked. Once provoked, you are allergic the rest of your life. Being a non-reactor is convenient, but don't push your luck!

If you are one of those who have had a reaction, take comfort in knowing that the longer you go without having another reaction, the less allergic you will become. With a little bit of luck and skill, you'll be able to do what you want!

Frequently Encountered Serious Problems:

(1)  Oils in the smoke from burning poison-oak can cause rashes on exposed skin, especially at chafe points. Less commonly, people have trouble breathing after exposure to the smoke.

(2)  Punctures and scratches by poison-oak require immediate first aid. Rinse the wounds with drinking water; blot them dry; apply bacitracin/polymixin ointment, available over-the-counter; and bandage.

(3)  Poison-oak leaves are more fragile than stems. The sap from one poison-oak leaflet is sufficient to cause a rash in a quarter of people.

(4)   The sap from cut roots can get you. Roots extend up to 25 feet from the nearest plant.

Other Concerns That Can Be Anticipated 

(1)   Permanent black clothing stains. Sometimes these clothes are wearable; other times they provoke a reaction, despite laundering, and have to be thrown away. You can always wear a jump suit; disposable ones for painters are available, starting at $5.

(2)   Equipment contamination. Your cutting tools and all your other equipment will gradually turn black. Fortunately, old urushiol stains are not very allergenic. I wore cotton gloves whenever I handled pruning shears, hand clippers, etc. until I had had no reactions for two years, at which time I no longer became itchy from the tools.

 

Identification of Poison-Oak:
     See the "Identification" brochure (.pdf file). In my experience, it takes several months, with expert tutelage, to get good at it.

Preventive Measures include skin care and appropriate clothing. See "Prevention: Skin Care" and "Prevention: Clothing."

Treatment:
     See "First Aid" and "Medical Care." If you don't know how you'll react, it is prudent to lay in the listed supplies. If you develop a poison-oak rash during a trip, it may be time to move to safer surroundings (e.g. from the campground to a motel in Morro Bay) or end your trip.

 

All content copyright Dr. Curt Beebe. Please do not use without permission.