Saturday, May 30, 2015


I do a lot of geocaching in the woods — I hid a new cache on one of Greensboro watershed trails just this morning — and especially at this time of year, I run into lots and lots of poison ivy. It's North Carolina's de facto state plant, as it grows more profusely here than anywhere else I've ever been. Certainly, in this part of the state, you can't step into a wooded area without being surrounded by it, and the fact I am deathly allergic to the stuff does me no favors. Years ago, I had such a bad outbreak of it — when I say I had a rash everywhere, I mean everywhere — the only relief I could get from the itching was to scrape my skin with a razor blade to break up all little blisters and then bathe in alcohol. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it was agony, but compared to the endless, maddening, driving-me-to-the-brink-of-insanity itching, it was a little slice of heaven. The outbreak was so bad that I eventually had to see a doctor, who had me take steroids and regularly apply some kind of ointment, which did, in fact, dry up the poison ivy; the ointment was so potent, however, it also dried up any unaffected skin until it withered and flaked off.

Since then, I have taken desperate measures to avoid a repeat of such an affliction. Abandoning or postponing geocaching is not an option, so prevention and treatment have been very high on my agenda. I've read and heard all kinds of anecdotes and recommendations; tried quite a few; and, happily, found an effective, very inexpensive solution that I will pass onto you here. Consider it a little public service announcement.

Rather than spend bunches of money on Tecnu and other poison-plant-specific products — which, by the way, for me have been essentially ineffective — I carry around a little bottle of Purell hand sanitizer with me. It's good for general hand-cleaning as well as breaking up urushiol oil, which is the nasty substance that causes the rash. While geocaching, I find myself frequently wading through vast gardens of poison ivy, climbing trees laced with its vines (mind those big fuzzy ones, by the way, as touching them will also result in some serious grief), and occasionally grabbing bunches of the plants while making my way through some challenging woodland corridor. If I can apply a generous amount of hand sanitizer to any exposed skin within about an hour of contact, the urushiol oil won't bond and cause the rash. Just as a matter of course, I always scrub up with some sanitizer after a deep woods outing. Then, once I get back home, I scrub even more thoroughly with dishwashing liquid, which is also good for breaking up oil on the skin, and cold water (not warm, since it will open your pores and make your skin more likely to absorb any urushiol). Plain soap and water is better than nothing, but it isn't anywhere near as effective as an alcohol-based product or what is essentially a degreaser.

For about the past five years, I have conscientiously used the hand sanitizer and dishwashing liquid treatment, and I've been all but poison-ivy free ever since. The only times I have suffered an outbreak at all, and these very minor, are when I've failed to scrub up after handling the clothes or shoes I was wearing while out in the woods. The urushiol oil will stick to your apparel and remain potent for some time. It pays to be careful on that count.

Everyone reacts differently to poison ivy exposure, but even people who believe themselves immune can occasionally receive a nasty shock. I've passed this technique along to numerous folks of my acquaintance, with highly positive results. Now, forearmed with this information, you may feel free to get out there and hunt my new cache when it's published — it's a Twin Peaks-inspired hide called "Let's Rock" and requires that you overcome a little challenge to secure the coordinates before you hit the woods. I can assure you, you'll want to do some serious scrubbing up after you've visited this one.

And beware of Bob, by the way.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As another geocache and woodsman I am also out often, in fact, with you. I think this looks like a particularly good year for poison ivy. It is popping up where I haven't seen it before. I am now hypervigilant about P.I. after an epic episode of my own some years ago. Long pants are another safety step. I think there must be lots of people who have no idea what P.I. looks like. The last three caches I visited were either IN P.I. or SURROUNDED by it. It is appearing more in urban settings. Alternate NC state plant indeed!