Poison oak. Argh!
Written by Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer   
May 16, 2009 06:00 am

Disclaimer: The following information (scratch) should not be construed (scritch, scratch) as medical advice.

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There are two things I’ve learned in the last week: You can catch poison oak at the beach (who knew!), and there are as many ways to treat it as there are opportunities to scratch it.

(Scratch, scratch. Ouch!)

I’ve dreaded the day that I would again catch poison oak. The last time was in 1992. It  wasn’t pretty and, after suffering two weeks with an unbearably itchy rash, I swore that I would forever guard against the oily scourge.

“Leaves of three, leave them be” has been my motto for the last 17 years as I traipsed through various wilderness areas. However, the thought of poison oak didn’t even occur to me as my daughter and I scrambled barefooted across the brushy hillside at Pistol River Beach two weeks ago (Hey! It was her idea!).

I know what you’re thinking: Poison oak doesn’t grow along the seashore!

Wrong. (Scratch. Scritch. Argh!)

And I have the evidence – on my calves, ankles and feet – to prove it. So far, my daughter has escaped with only a tiny rash on one foot – totally unfair!

The rash can appear within a few hours after contact with the plant, or it can start three to five days later, according to the Oregon of University Health Center Web site (http://healthcenter.uoregon.edu). It took a week for the tell-tale red bumps to appear on my legs. I thought they were bug bites. “Better check the dogs for fleas,” I told my wife. Nope, no fleas.

I learned there is no cure for the rash once it begins, only relief of the symptoms. According to health Web site www.webmd.com, treatment primarily consists of apply an over-the-counter lotion – such as calamine lotion – to help relieve the itch. Severe reactions may warrant a visit to the doctor and subsequent prescription medication.

As I write this, the symptoms (scratch, scratch) are starting to fade, but still flare up occasionally – usually in the middle of the night. If you’ve ever had poison oak, even a mild case, you know that people will do just about anything to relive the unbearable itching. And, according to various Internet sources and my coworkers at the Pilot, there are a million folk remedies to treat it. For example, bleach. I’m not kidding. Some people swear that dabbing it on the rash helps, but many reputable health Web sites vehemently oppose doing so, saying it “removes the top layers of your skin and can weaken it so the rash becomes worse, or lead to infection.”

Okay, no bleach.

(Scratch. Scratch. Doggone it!)

Other folk remedies include running hot water over the rash, using a vinegar compress or rubbing alcohol. One Internet commentator suggested urine. Hey, if it works!

For me, running hot water over the rash did the trick. It intensified the itching at first, but brought sweet relief for two to four hours. Leaving my shoes and socks off (yes, even at work) has helped.

To avoid poison oak, WebMD suggests:

•Learn to identify the plant and avoid contact with it;

•When walking in the woods or working in areas where it may grow, cover your skin as much as possible by wearing long pants, long sleeves, shoes, and socks;

•Pets exposed to the poison plants can carry the plant oil back home on their fur.

And I would add one more:

•Don’t hike anywhere in Curry County – including the beach – in bare feet.

Trust me  ... (scratch, scratch) I know.