California Poison Control System (CPCS) warns California residents to be on the lookout for poison oak. It is a serious threat especially to those who are allergic to the plant. Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is found mainly in the western regions of the state growing from sea level to the mountains. Grassy hillsides, forests, recreation areas and coastal locations are home to the plant.
“There’s a saying, ‘Leaves of three, let it be,” among hikers. In addition to coming in contact with the plant itself, people can contract poison oak by touching clothing, shoes, gloves, pets and tools. Even smoke from burning plants can cause irritation,” says Dr. Rais Vohra, Medical Director for the Fresno/Madera Division of CPCS. He added exposure in allergic individuals will result in a rash about one to six days after coming in contact with the leaves that itches and then forms water blisters. The fluid from these blisters does not transmit poison oak as many people think. Repeated exposure does, unfortunately, increase sensitivity. Poison oak tips include:
- Wear boots, gloves and long pants when hiking.
- Stay on trails away from brush where poison oak plants grow.
- If you are exposed to poison oak, wash the area thoroughly with lukewarm water and apply rubbing alcohol which may wash away the oil from the plant.
- Wash all clothing, tools and pets that have been exposed to the plant.
- Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can help stop the itching, as can antihistamines.
- Do not scratch the rash as that can cause infection.
- Get immediate medical attention if you have trouble breathing or swallowing; the rash covers much of your body; you have many blisters; or swelling occurs, especially of the eyelids, face or genitals.