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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

Busting myths about poison ivy, from the Harvard Health Letter

Poison ivy poses real problems to gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. But some of the "facts" that people know about this plant are really myths, reports the May 2013 Harvard Health Letter.

Plants employ a variety of defenses to protect themselves. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac secrete an oil that some people are allergic to. Contact with the oil triggers an allergic reaction that shows up in two to 10 days as a red, swollen, itchy, blistering rash known as allergic contact dermatitis.

Myths about poison ivy and its kin can put you and others at risk.

Myth #1:  The rash is contagious. Not true. It looks unpleasant, but it won't spread on yourself or to another person, even when you see oozing blisters.

Myth #2: If you have the rash once, you can't get it again. Not true. One exposure doesn't make you immune to it. In fact, if you get it once you'll likely get it again if you come in contact with the oil. "For some people, one exposure to a plant is all it takes to become allergic to it," says Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a clinical professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

Myth #3: You have to touch a poison ivy plant to be affected by it. Not necessarily true. Breathing in smoke given off by burning poison ivy can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs that may require immediate medical attention.

The easiest way to avoid an allergic reaction to one of these plants is by wearing protective clothing, like gloves, long sleeves, and pants, when gardening or spending time outdoors. Soap and water can remove poison ivy oil, but only if used right away. "If you wash immediately, most of the plant oil will diminish or come off," says Dr. Arndt. "If you wait 10 to 15 minutes, half of the oil will come off. If you wait an hour, none will come off."

Read the full-length article: "Dodging skin irritations from problem plants"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Health Letter

  • Avoid back pain and improve balance by strengthening core muscles
  • Ask the doctor: Restless leg treatments
  • Ask the doctor: The Mediterranean diet difference
  • Migraines: Can dementia, stroke or heart attack be next?
  • Heart: Implantable defibrillators: Simple fix may save lives
  • Some computer downloads for better health should be avoided
  • Easy way to stop knee arthritis from progressing
  • Caution: Cancer risk elevated in women with dense breasts
  • Dodging skin irritations from problem plants
  • Medication Manager: What you need to know about: Inhalers
  • News Briefs: Harvard study says yes to eggs
  • News Briefs: Brain scan shows best time to treat plaque
  • News Briefs: Inflammation linked to vision loss

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.