Spending time outdoors is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health — especially right now. And if you’re looking for something invigorating to distract you from the pandemic, hiking or camping should probably be on your list.
Of course, you do need to take precautions when you participate in these outdoor activities. Although going outside can be one of the safest options right now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be hazards waiting for you. Many of those hazards occur naturally, so you’ll want to be mindful whenever you’re walking through wildlife.
As we move from summer to fall, you’ll still need to be aware of the animals and plants that can cause harm. Poison ivy and poison oak are among these dangers. It’ll behoove you to learn exactly what these plants look like so you can avoid them on the trail. That way, nothing can ruin your trip.
Poison Ivy Vs. Poison Oak: How to Tell the Difference
Both poison ivy and poison oak can cause allergic reactions (which typically show up in the form of a bodily rash) due to the urushiol they contain. In fact, 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy. Both plants are characterized by their lack of thorns and their three-leaf clusters. (If you’ve ever heard the expression, “leaves of three, let them be,” you’ll already be familiar with this aspect of their physical appearance). They also grow as either a vine or a bush, have red berries and white flowers, and come in a variety of sizes. They also tend to turn red in color during the fall.
However, poison ivy and poison oak also have some key differences that can help you know which plants to avoid. Poison ivy often grows close to the ground and has vines or stems that are fuzzy in appearance. Its leaves are almond-shaped and may look shiny. Poison oak has leaves that are a bit more rounded and “hairy.” They really do look similar to oak leaves.
Avoiding and Treating Poison Ivy or Poison Oak
Knowing how to differentiate between poison ivy and poison oak can allow you to avoid making contact with these hazardous plants. But you may not always be able to rely on your quick reactions to keep you safe. When hiking, camping, or spending time in nature, you should consider wearing protective clothing to cover your skin. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts should be worn to provide a barrier between your bare skin and any plants you might brush up against.
But since reactions to poison ivy and poison oak aren’t immediate, you might realize too late that you’ve unknowingly touched them. You should first wash all exposed areas of your skin (or the affected area, if a rash has started to form) with soap and cool water. You can use cool compresses, calamine lotion, or antihistamines to treat the symptoms. Be sure to seek medical care if the rash becomes increasingly uncomfortable or if it’s accompanied by blisters, swelling, fever, or difficulty breathing. In most cases, however, the rash will eventually dissipate on its own within a couple of weeks.
Now that you know all about poison ivy and poison oak, you can hike or camp with confidence.