PEORIA, Ill. -- This hot and humid summer weather provides ideal conditions for poison ivy.
And when it comes to avoiding the dreaded plant, there's a standard rule: "Leaves with three, let it be."
Unfortunately, I know this all too well. I was doing some yard work last week and brushed against a three-leafed plant. This week, my right arm is covered with itchy poison ivy rashes. I also have spots on my left arm and back.
Poison ivy acts quickly. Dr. Jim Adams of O-S-F Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria says your skin will absorb the poison ivy oils within ten minutes. He says the best immediate treatment is isopropyl alcohol.
"But because the poison is oil based, the alcohol will denature that protein, and it has the best chance of degrading that stuff before it's absorbed into your skin."
He also suggests rinsing off with a hose immediately. But Dr. Adams prescribes an ounce of prevention: "If you're going to be in the yard, either have the isopropyl alcohol or Ivy Off or something like that. And if you don't have those, pour the water on, get the hose on you."
When I came in contact with poison ivy last week, I rushed into my house and scrubbed with soap and water. Dr. Adams says that was probably my downfall. He says the washing and scrubbing process actually spreads the oils around and makes matters much worse.
If you don't have isopropyl alcohol, he reiterates grabbing a hose and spraying yourself off. That way, the oils are washed away from your skin.
Of course, it helps to know what these plants look like to avoid all of this hassle in the first place.
JD Russell of the Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights says many people have a hard time recognizing the plant.
"Sometimes it can be hard to identify," he said. "Sometimes it can blend in with some other native species of plant. Poison ivy has three leaves with rough edges."
He says he often shows pictures of poison ivy to people who come to nature center. He says people should also look up images of the plant on the Internet if they're planning any kind of work in the great outdoors.
Poison ivy tends to grow on the edges of places - such as yards, wooded areas, hiking paths, and golf courses.
Russell adds, "It can also grow on a vine, a shrub, and that vine can climb up a tree. It can grow up to three feet wide."
Dr. Adams says most poison ivy cases clear up on their own in 7 to 14 days. But for more severe cases - such as rashes on the eyes, mouth or private areas - those usually require a trip to the doctor.
As for treating the rash once you have it, Dr. Adams suggests all sorts of over-the-counter remedies. They include calamine lotion and a variety of anti-itch creams. Adams says he's heard of all kinds of "folk remedies" for poison ivy rashes, but he doesn't know of any that truly work.